Don’t ask me how it transpired, but yesterday the first chapter of my Masters dissertation ended up looking an awful lot like a 4lb lavender, blueberry and white chocolate bundt cake. There’s not even a special occasion like a birthday to justify it, I just really didn’t want to write the first chapter of my dissertation. This is a problem because I might fail my Masters but also I recently read Everything I Know about Love by Dolly Alderton (because all of my friends were reading it because they’re all Exeter graduates with an alcohol problem and desperately in need of therapy, too). Anyway I started taking Dolly’s advice for twenty-somethings as gospel (because she’s paid for a lot of therapy, and reading a book by a twenty-something who’s had a lot of therapy is kind of equivalent to paying for a lot of therapy, right?) and she said not to eat sugar because “it ruins your insides and your outsides”. I’m a whore for sugar, in all of its forms, but especially in the shape of bundt cake. Anyway, I can’t stop eating sugar because I have this theory that I’ll apply for The Great British Bake Off in 2019 and then I’ll make Noel Fielding try my bundt cake and then he’ll fall madly in love with me and we’ll run away to some Scandinavian country together and once we start going grey we’ll share our dark hair dye and it’ll be wonderful. (Just to clarify, I don’t fancy him, I just want to be in the remake of The Mighty Boosh). So you see, I have to practice making bundt cakes.
The thing with bundt cakes is that they’re distinctive because of their ring shape, but their spiralling patterns make it an absolute bitch to get out of the mould. The key is in the prepping of the tin, and ensuring the batter isn’t too thin, else it will be too moist and soft to get out. So follow my advice and it’ll (probably) come out like this:
If you’re an person with an unsophisticated palate who despises using “perfume” things as ingredients (like rose or orange blossom or lavender) then you can leave the lavender out. It works just the same. Just taste less posh.
Lavender, blueberry and white chocolate bundt cake (serves 12; vegetarian)
300g melted butter (Stork) plus extra for greasing that bastard tin
3 tsp dried lavender
150g white chocolate
325g caster sugar
350g self-raising flour, sifted
3 large eggs
150g icing sugar
A dash of purple food colouring
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Grease the bundt tin. Using the bain marie method on the hob, melt the butter, 50g of the white chocolate and 2tsp dried lavender. This really helps to release that “perfume” flavour.
Once melted, leave to sit for 5 minutes before mixing in the caster sugar. Combine the eggs. Add the flour steadily, using an electric whisk on a slow setting to combine. Lastly, stir in 200g of the blueberries, leaving the remainder for decoration.
Pour the mixture into the tin, and bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, before removing onto a board to leave to cool completely.
Once cool, make the lilac icing and smoother on top. It doesn’t have to be neat. Melt the remaining white chocolate, and drizzle over the icing. Sprinkle over a tsp of dried lavender and pop on the blueberries.
To touch base, here’s a few things: I moved to Glasgow, started a Masters, started two new jobs, became vegan, became anaemic, rediscovered fish and chips, rediscovered happiness. I had these vivid plans for food blogging in Glasgow – the U.K capital for vegan eats and all-things deep-fried (they even deep fry pizza here and call it “pizza crunch”, don’t you know) – and I had envisioned that I’d be eating out twice a week, free of charge of course, like I did during my undergraduate in Exeter.
Added into the mix:
The state of my unhygienic postgrad accommodation has largely stunted any attempts to conjure up any new recipes (there’s no opportunity for aesthetically pleasing photographs when your kitchen hobs are that grimey). I have, however, lived with ten fascinating Americans (woops, and one Canadian, sorry Emilie) over the course of the year. They’ve introduced me to the joys of sweet potato casserole (thanks, Keely from Chicago), Jif peanut butter (thanks, Noah from Minnesotta), Cheezits (thanks, Rachel from North Carolina) and poutine (thanks, Emilie from somewhere in Canada). Apparently combining the sugary hells of the American diet shipped over seas and the deep-fried-ness of the Glaswegian lifestyle makes a postgraduate student such as myself rather distracted and disorganised. I left a lot of things behind when I moved 450 miles north, and a lot of things have gone on hold.
I didn’t bring my baking supplies or my succulents here, because I was stubbornly adamant that I wouldn’t settle in Scotland. I expected to move back down to the old smoke as soon as I hit submit on my dissertation.
But here are some confessions: I actually like Irn Bru now, and I buy it of my own accord. And not even the sugar free version. I like, not just the taste, but the lurid orange colour and the way Glaswegians call it “juice” even though there’s no fruit pulp in it and that you can get it as an ice cream flavour and the fact that my pal who works in the NHS archives has access to the original, secret recipe and that recipe apparently is so sought after that it holds this strange, mythical status. I even own an Irn Bru clock.
Second confession: I still haven’t tried an empire biscuit. God knows why they’re such a big deal…it’s just two pieces of biscuit, a white icing glaze and a jelly tot.
Third confession: I hate shortbread.
So, I ventured down South in a bid to navigate through the fog and retrieve my baking goods. And on the 5 and a half hour train journey up from London to Glasgow I noticed that you can measure the milage by the difference in the passengers’ accents, the increase in their happiness, and the amount of times you’re offered a Red Stripe.
To kick things off, I thought I’d stay true to the unhealthiness of my current adopted diet (an amalgam of American and Glaswegian influences) and produce these bad boys.
Tunnock’s teacake brownies (vegetarian; makes 6 “sharing” brownies)
200g dark chocolate, chopped
175g unsalted butter (I’m forever loyal to Stork)
300g caster sugar
130g plain flour
3 large eggs
6 Tunnock’s Teacakes (I went for the dark chocolate variety)
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Line a rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Using the bain-marie method on the hob, melt the butter and chopped dark chocolate until smooth, stirring consistently.
Remove from the heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and melted concoction. Sift in the flour and mix until well incorporated. Then, crack in the eggs, mix well.
Pour the mixture into a prepared baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and add the teacakes. (We don’t want these to burn). Bake for a further 20-25 minutes, until the surface begins to crack. Allow to cool before serving.
I had always wanted to experience afternoon tea in London, but was always put off by the stuffiness event. At the Ritz, for example, the dress code is put under ‘terms and conditions’; as a “client responsibility” guests are not permitted to wear jeans for afternoon tea. Apparently cake tastes better when you’re in a tux. This is just not true. Cake is best in loose clothes. Preferably in bed, with Orange is the New Black in the background. So when I realised I was going for afternoon tea for my 21st birthday, and that the dress code was ‘smart casual,’ my mum sewed up the holes in my ripped jeans and we pretended to be posh for the day.
What differentiates Rosewood from its competition in the capital is that the cakes are treated as individual artworks. Rosewood’s executive pastry chef, Mark Perkins, has curated a selection of art-inspired cakes to accompany finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and loose tea. His creations are inspired by five of the most globally iconic artists currently exhibited in London including Yayoi Kusuma, Alexander Calder, Banksy, Damien Hurst and Mark Rothko. This novel idea works well on so many levels, because by using the artists’ work as a basis of inspiration, the cake itself becomes an artwork, but in edible form. Rosewood have nailed it – I can’t imagine another theme that would work as effectively embodied in pastry. Politicians, countries, famous figures etc. could all get a little controversial, and cake should never offend. Art afternoon tea seems to have struck gold, because it is about adapting the style into a new miniature version, one that can be recognised, adored and consumed by art fanatics. I’m going to rank and review the cakes, comparing them to their original masterpieces.
Renowned for her psychedelic colours, patterns and repetition, Japanese artist Kusuma has taken over the international art world one polka dot at a time. For this cake, Perkins drew inspiration from her installation ‘All the Eternal Love I have for Pumpkins’. Rather than merely copying a pumpkin from the work, the cake shows the chef’s original take. I have ranked it the highest because of how visually striking it is, and to me it just screams ‘Kusuma’. Moreover, it tasted as quirky as it looked. It was made from milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set on chocolate biscuit. Perkins thought that her predilection for yellow and black was best translated into passionfruit and chocolate.
‘All the Eternal Love I have for Pumpkins’
All the eternal love I have for cake…
2. ALEXANDER CALDER
This was a structural masterpiece. Fitting for the American sculptor who invented the mobile, the moving sculpture made with suspended shapes that move in response to touch or the air, typically found above a baby’s cot. Disguised as a modernist mobile, this cake was surprisingly incredibly heavy because the inside was densely packed with pistachio bavarois, cherry jelly, pistachio sponge “sprayed” with red chocolate. As I have a predilection for pistachios, this my favourite flavour-wise. I was also astonished by the interior engineering work, as I cut through every cake in half to share, this one did not collapse. The exterior embellishments were a little fragile however, made only coloured chocolate, they fell off when I picked the cake up.
The nation’s favourite and a worldwide phenomenon, it would be a difficult task to create a cake that was not identifiable to this mainstream street artist. I think this let down the overall challenge to create something with an innovative spin on an existing artist. It was almost inevitable that the cake would be a brick or building with one of Banky’s iconic stencils on. They had chosen Banky’s 2002 piece ‘Balloon Girl’, which was originally a mural on an East London, but was removed and sold for £500,000 in 2014. Depicting a young girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon (only that the opaque red icing was not not heart-shaped) the impressive element of this cake was its unusually brick-like texture. It was the richest of the five, and incredibly indulgent. A chocolate cube filled with vanilla cream choux, chocolate creme resting on a salted caramel liquid, I imagine this would take a few miles to burn off. Too much sugar compacted into a 2inch x 2inch box for my liking.
4. DAMIEN HIRST
When I think of Hirst I think of sharks or cows preserved in tanks and diamond encrusted skulls. Far less so, I think of his inoffensive and boring dot work. Truth be told, I dislike Hirst. His public response to the retaliation of his unimaginative artwork is pretty tongue and cheek; when people say “anyone could do that” he barks back “but you didn’t, did you?” And he’s made an obscene amount from doing what we could not be bothered to do. It took some time for me to recognise that the cake was based on Hirst’s art, and like his career itself, the cake’s design was a bit boring. The redemptive factor was that it tasted really pleasant, and it offsets the heftiness of the Banksy cake. A white chocolate tart made from cassis jelly, yuzu curd and decorated with dots, it was delightful but didn’t have the shock factor I was expecting – I would have preferred a replica of ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (aka the shark in a tank). That would have been fun.
5. MARK ROTHKO
This was the artist I knew least about. He was a famous abstract expressionist, but all I knew was that he had a thing about painting bold block colours on canvas. I imagine that his was the easiest to translate into cake form, because his work is the least adventurous. The most inventive creative decision would therefore have to be the flavour combination, and this was subtle, light and delicate. This was made from layered coconut sponge, raspberry, coconut mouse and decorated with thin pink and red raspberry chocolate. I thought this was not the one to rave about – it’s structure was not experimental, nor was its embellishments.
I also couldn’t help but notice that this had been done before by many amateur home bakers…
Located in central London, High Holborn, Rosewood Hotel is anything but an eyesore. Admittedly, while trying to act collected, and not break anything in the process, I did take three trips to the ladies bathroom over the space of two hours to take Snapchats…
Laid table with tea and sandwiches
The cake art pieces were just one feature of the overall sophisticated experience. The tea, sandwiches, and scones were additionally exquisite. I did not have a big enough stomach capacity to eat it all, and our wonderful waiters kept offering us top ups of our favourites. They were so hospitable, and elaborated on the artists’ stories behind each individual cake. I ended up taking home the scones and a spare Banksy cake. Word of warning: come on a very empty stomach, and wear loose smart casual clothing. This is the first season of art afternoon tea at Rosewood, if you would like to experience these specific varieties for yourself, you must come soon, as new replacement designs are due to replace them. Standard afternoon tea per person is £50 and can be booked online here.
Thoughts about which artists I’d like to see in art form at the Rosewood in future: Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Emin, Max Ernst…
This year I’m lucky to have a wild rosemary bush growing in my garden, and though I knew wanted to make orange brownies, I wanted to add something that would make the flavour more experimental. After once sampling a stilton brownie at a food festival, I thought a little rosemary wouldn’t be overly adventurous. Next time I would like to bake with lemon and basil – but I’m unsure the brownie base would suit – fortunately, it does for this.
Orange, rosemary and dark chocolate browniesvegetarian; makes approximately 10 portions
50g brown sugar
2 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp cinnamon
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
175g butter for baking
275g caster sugar
130g plain flour
2 large free-range eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Begin by making a sugar syrup for the crystallised orange slices which will embellish the brownies. To do this, dissolve the brown sugar in water on the hob over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a low heat, and a slices of 1 whole orange, cinnamon and sprig of rosemary. Leave to crystallise for approximately 7 minutes on each side. Remove the slices from the pan and place on kitchen roll, and then in the fridge to set whilst making the brownie batter.
Preheat the oven to 17o°C. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl of a saucepan of simmering water (be sure not to let the base of the bowl touch the water). Stir occasionally until melted and incorporated.
Remove from the hear. Add the sugar and mix in well, followed by the flour and the cocoa powder. Stir in the eggs. Grate the zest of the second orange, and pop in with a handful rosemary trimmings, and stir into the brownie mix.
Spoon the mixture into a prepared baking tray with baking parchment. I used a square tin (23cm x 23cm x 5cm) for mine. Partially bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, the remove from the oven and add the crystallised orange slices. Place back in the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes. Leave to cool completely before removing before removing from the tray.
Rose petal and pistachio cakevegetarian; serves 10
Bottled rose water and dried rose are incredibly exciting ingredients. I bought them about a year a go for a mere couple of pounds from an International food supermarket, and they’ve been a little neglected at the back of my cupboard, amongst the things I told myself I’d always get round to using. And once I practised this recipe to perfection, they were all gone.
225g baking butter, softened to room temperature (I am forever loyal to stork)
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
2 large free-range eggs
1 tbsp rose water
40g unsalted pistachio kernels, chopped
For the icing:
125g sifted icing sugar
2 tsp rose water
2 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp pink food colouring
40g unsalted pistachio kernels, chopped
Dried rose petals (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and prepare a non-stick loaf tin with baking parchment or butter.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the baking butter and caster sugar. Gradually sift in the self-raising flour, add the eggs one at a time, and combine well.
Stir in the rose water and pistachios so the flavours are evenly distributed through the cake mix.
Pour the mix into the loaf tin, and even out the surface with a spatular. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a knife through the centre comes out clean.
Once cooled take the cake out of the tin. Create the icing by combining the sugar with rose water, warm water and pink food colouring. Smoother the top of the cake with it. Sprinkle on pistachio kernels, and dried rose petals if you’re feeling decadent.
No 1 Polsloe café – the clue is in the title and the address – they’re No 1 at delivering high quality food, No 1 for aesthetic, No 1 for value.
They faced me with a challenge: to get through three of their vegetarian breakfasts, one strawberry ice cream milkshake, a flat white and a cappuccino. Suffice to say, I was waddling to my 12pm lecture after.
I had been to this café back in 2014, but since it changed hands in August 2015, the aesthetic and vibe of the dainty space has gone from strength to strength. Decorated in makeshift cacti botanical bowls, fairy lights, plant wall hangings, and giant flowers floating from the ceiling; all I’m thinking about whilst waiting for my breakfast is how I wish I had the creative juices of the café’s trendy yet modest owner, Becky.
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The space also boasts connections with Devonshire artists. Illustrative artist Elise who runs Skelliton illustration, has currently got a table of gorgeously designed goods up for sale there. The menus are designed by artist George Goodwin, who goes by the title ‘Omg I drawed it’ – and I’m looking at his art on the walls thinking Omg I WISH I drew that. But fear not, George’s drawings are available to purchase so you can bring home a little bit of that No 1 Polsloe aesthetic.
After feeling a little jealous of all these creative types, the food arrives, and the pressure is on to do all this beautiful food justice through my little iPhone camera.
Becky’s team have given me a platter featuring: their special smashed avocado and poached eggs on thick-sliced bread, with lime, chilli, and dill; a vegetarian, avocado aficionado version of eggs royale; and, buttermilk pancakes with honey, banana and Greek yoghurt.
Smashed avo & pouched eggs with lime, dill & chilli
Vegetarian eggs royale
The combination of lime, chilli, and dill with avocado tastes sensational. The hollandaise sauce poured over the eggs, avocado slices and warm muffins is absolutely perfect. I used the pancakes, accompanied by the strawberry ice cream milkshake, as my desert to the breakfast trio – they have clearly mastered their pancake batter recipe. After sampling all of these, I cannot help but think I would be over the moon to receive this in a highflying hotel. Yet, a brunch here will only set you back £6 at the most.
It’s all the thoughtful finishing touches which makes this eatery so great. Everyone is considered – from the meat-eaters, to the vegans, to the gluten-free customers. I truly appreciate seeing a restaurant also fully supportive of local businesses, such as using Exe Coffee Roasters to supply its beans, and KB Eats’ spectacular cakes to stock the counter.
No.1 Polsloe does not stop at brunch – it’s open for lunch and into the evening for pizza and cocktails. It’s now available to be hired out for private parties too.
pretzels, bagels, bratwurst, currywurst…and erm, more currywurst
To make my flight €100 cheaper, I stopped off in Berlin for a few days before heading back to London. I found that Berlin had few concrete, fundamental dishes and ingredients that sets it aside from the rest of Europe. The capital certainly has the rest of Germany’s predilection for meat, particularly sausages. But, I was disappointed I couldn’t try the dish most ranted and raved about – that is bratwurst sausage with curry toppings, or ‘currywurst’ – because of dietary requirements. There’s even a museum dedicated to the phenomenon that is ‘currywurst’.
I fell in love with the city; it lives to reflect and learn from its controversial past, with the effect that it now exists as a liberal and lively hub. In the process, it has accumulated a vast array of multicultural cuisines. I ate in authentic Turkish, Italian and Asian restaurants (and many modern vegan eateries that are dispersed throughout the city).
The German bakeries are the city’s redemption. Think pretzels galore. Here’s a ‘streuseltaler’ – a fine yeast dough pastry with a refined butter crumble. It’s essentially an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.
In East Side Berlin, there was a substantial selection of vegan eateries, to match the cool and hip ambience of this side of the city. Just past the East Side gallery, I came across a building hosting Veganz (a supermarket), Goodies (a vegan café dedicated to great coffee), The Bowl (a clean eating restaurant for the best, beautiful bowls of goodness), and a vegan shoe shop.
The Bowl boasts a 100% plant-based kitchen, producing gluten and sugar free bowls for a little over €10. I tried went for the ‘California’ bowl from the menu; this was lemon quinoa, deep fried sweet potato sticks, sesame tamari leaf spinach, raw apple carrot salad, avocado slices, tomato coriander salsa and teriyaki hibiscus sauce. (But I also pinched a spoonful of the ‘Buddha’ bowl too from my travel buddy). The ingredients are simple, but the sauces and dressings bring the ingredients to life.
This restaurant refreshed me from a 3 hour urban art walking tour of the East Side gallery and beyond. And it has given me inspiration for new healthy, filling and vegan recipes.
goji berries are a current superfood trend…spread peanut butter onto these loaf slices for a morning energy hit
Banana and goji berry loafmakes 10 slices; vegetarian
85g unsalted butter, softened
110g light muscovado sugar
1 heaped tbsp peanut butter
3 ripe bananas, mashed
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
40g walnuts, roughly chopped
40g dried goji berries
30g dried banana chips
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Grease a loaf tin and line with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in the peanut butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add the mashed bananas.
Mix in the flour and baking powder until well combined and smooth. Stir in the walnuts and goji berries.
Spoon the mixture into the lined baking tin. Decorate with banana chips, whole walnuts and more goji berries. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, until golden brown, and a skewer comes out clean when put in the middle.
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and serving. Store in an air tight container.
decorate these fragrant cookies with candied dark chocolate orange dippers
200g softened butter
130g brown sugar
260g plain flour
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 orange
50g dark chocolate, chopped
Handful of chopped hazelnuts
For the chocolate orange dippers
1 orange, sliced into segments
50g dark chocolate, melted
50g caster sugar
Cream together the softened butter and brown sugar. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, and combine well.
Add in the flour alongside the chopped dark chocolate, orange zest and hazelnuts. Mix well until it forms a sticky dough.
On a floured surface, roll the dough into a ball and wrap in cling film. Put the cookie dough in the freezer for 45 minutes. While in the freezer, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC / fan.
Take the cookie dough out of the freezer and mould into 12 discs. Place the cookies on baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Leave to cool before serving.
To make the candied chocolate orange dippers, as shown in my photo, create a syrup in a pan by warming the water with caster sugar. Bring to the boil on a medium heat, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.
Add the orange slices and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove them from the pan, and pop them in the fridge to cool and harden.
the candied lemons give this classic cake a sour edge
For the loaf:
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g plain flour
200g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp baking powder
For the drizzle toppings:
Juice of 1 lemon
60g caster sugar
2 heaped tbsp icing sugar
For the candied lemons:
50g caster sugar
1 lemon, thickly sliced
Prepare a standard-sized loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / fan.
Soften the butter, and cream with the sugar until well incorporated.
Sift in the flour slowly, beating in the eggs one at a time as you do so. Stir in the lemon zest and baking powder.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
While the cake is cooling, it’s time to create your drizzle toppings and candied lemons. To make the candied lemons, create a quick syrup in a pan by warming water with caster sugar. Bring to the boil on a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon slices and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Pop them in the fridge for an hour to cool and harden.
While the candied lemons are in the fridge, make the drizzle. Simply combine the juice of 1 lemon with caster sugar. Prick the warm loaf with a fork all over, and pour the drizzle over.
Once the drizzle loaf is entirely cool, remove from the tin. Combine icing sugar with a little water until it has a smooth and shiny consistency. Decorate by drizzling this in lines across the cake, and arrange the candied lemons.