Afternoon tea review: Beas of Bloomsbury

On Saturday I went for afternoon tea with my friend at Beas of Bloomsbury in St Pauls. We originally went a month ago for coffee and cake but hadn’t found the service very good. Having been in touch with Bea herself, we were invited back for afternoon tea to recreate first impressions. We were greeted with a table upstairs where all the afternoon teas take place and the table was set out with fresh baguette portions and a cake stand adorned with cupcakes, scones and mini cakes. I liked the lights which were teapot shaped – thought it was a fun touch to the atmosphere.

Baguettes by Beas of Bloomsbury by Naomi LongworthWe were offered a selection of teas and coffees and iced water which came quickly. The food was very fresh and it was good to have baguettes rather than sandwiches to be a bit more substantial. Flavours included brie and ham, salami, and my friend had a soft cheese and veg one. It turned out my friend was cutting out sugar for Lent so she only tried a few bits of the afternoon tea. I, on the other hand tasted everything! I most enjoyed the millionaire shortbread square, nut and choc brownie and the pistachio macaron was to die for. The food was good quality and tasty. The only cake that let them down was the mini meringue which was a bit tough to bite in to. I wasn’t a massive fan of the homemade mango marshmellow because of the texture but thought it was something a bit different. There were so many other mini morsels to try that it didn’t matter too much if there was one you didn’t like. The scones were also fresh and broke in two easily and they went down a treat with strawberry jam and clotted cream. We had a lovely afternoon and really enjoyed it.

Close up of cupcake at Beas of Bloomsbury

Couple of things to note: there are only four tables for coffee and cake downstairs in winter, double that capacity on sunny days. If you want to go for afternoon tea then you need to book by email in advance. Everything is made to order based on the number of afternoon teas that day – this is to reduce food wastage and keep the price of the afternoon tea more affordable – £17 for full afternoon tea which I do think is good value. However, because of this sandwiches aren’t on the menu at weekends for those not having afternoon tea, nor are scones. Beas of Bloomsbury are looking into what they offer customers who aren’t coming for afternoon tea so you never know this might change.

Passionfruit frosted cupcakes and flat white and latte by Hannah CarmichaelI would recommend the afternoon tea – it was a lovely atmosphere and great fresh food plus good service. Hopefully the service is mirrored downstairs from now on and if you’re only wanting cake and drinks anyway then it’s not a problem that sandwiches aren’t provided.

Afternoon tea review: Dean Street Town House Hotel

Afternoon tea at Dean Street Townhouse Hotel by Naomi Longworth

Yesterday I went for afternoon tea at the Dean Street Town House Hotel for my friend’s birthday. It’s a great location for a winter afternoon tea as the low lighting and cosy furnishings are perfect for hiding away on a cold winter’s day. They were incredibly busy and we had to wait for our reserved table so we were offered a free glass of champagne at the bar which cheered us up. We were then seated at a big table by the window on low green armchairs and comfy cushions. We did have to wait quite a while before our order was taken and the afternoon tea came a lot later than our teas and coffees. However, the food was very good – the sandwiches were very fresh and tasty – egg and cucumber which was subtle and delicious, ham and mustard – again very tasty and the mustard wasn’t too overpowering and smoked salmon and cream cheese. As you can see, we gobbled the sandwiches down before I remembered to take a photo! We opted for one afternoon tea between the two of us which costs £16.75. Depending on how hungry you are, this is about the right size but you probably need to order another set of sandwiches as you only get three sarnies each time.

We then started on the plate of fancies – a cake with thin layers of choc sponge and choc coating – it tasted divine, a lemon macaron which was zingy and had the right amount of crunch and chew and then a fairy cake with cream piped on top which was average and not as adventurous. Finally, we tucked into scones which were very fresh and slightly warm, followed by homemade strawberry and raspberry jam and clotted cream. It tasted delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d recommend the afternoon tea but the service was slow so bear that in mind.

10 great Valentine cake ideas

With just under a month to go before Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be a good time to share some Valentine cake and cupcake ideas with you. There’s a savoury idea in here too if your man isn’t in to cake. Ignoring the latter sentence, cake is a great way to show your love for someone – surely that is undisputed! Here are a few ideas to get your cakebuds going.

1. Make heart shaped cupcakes – you can buy a cake mould with a set of 6 little cakes from Amazon here

2. Make a heart shaped cake – perhaps a chocolate sandwich sponge cake with red foil heart shaped chocolates in the middle of the cake around the edge – a bit like a heart treasure chest cake! Cake tins can be found here on Amazon

3. Make heart shaped cookies, dipping one half of them in dark or milk chocolate; buy cookie cutters here and you can even put them in heart celophane bags

4. Make a red velvet cake or red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting from the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book

5. Make vanilla cupcakes in these cute cases with hearts on them

6. Make cupcakes and sprinkle with these lovely edible glitter hearts or heart smarties

7. If your man isn’t in to cake but you still want to do something cooking related, how about bake him a pie in one of these magnificent red Le Creuset dishes?

From the Mad baker blog 8. If you’re a guy and London based, why don’t you book for a special Valentine afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury which includes a gift bag of limited edition heart shaped meringues or if you’re feeling  a little more flush how about the afternoon tea at Claridges which includes champagne and heart shaped macarons? On a related note, check out the pic of these amazing heart macarons made by the Mad Baker – blog post here.

Harrogate bakery 9. Oh and if you want to see a fab Valentine cake display from last year, see my post on a Harrogate bakery here

10. Bake chocolate brownies and make a raspberry coulis for the side – BBC Good Food has a recipe to try

And what will I be baking for my fella you ask?! Secret…until after 14th Feb!

I love macarons book

My friend has given me a lovely macaron recipe book so I thought I would share it with you. It would make a great Christmas present at a reasonable price. I love macarons by Japanese pastry maker Hisako Ogita is dedicated to the mysterious arts of macaron making. Less reassuring is the double page spread on what might have gone wrong with your macarons so this is clearly not an exact science! There’s lots of beautiful photography and a section on what desserts you can cook with your leftover egg yolks which is practical. There’s also a chapter on different gift wrappings if you’re giving macarons away as a present. Perfect for Christmas! I better get practising…

Paris: the tale of the tart, the cupcake and the macaron

Lemon cupcake from Miss Cupcake shop in ParisI recently visited Paris for the very first time and as part of my trip, I made it my quest to sniff out a cupcake shop and devour raspberry tarts and try my first Parisian macaron. First up, I stumbled across a cupcake shop not far from the Sacré Coeur called Miss Cupcake (nearest metro station is Abesses). I chatted to the two ladies in there and bought a lovely looking lemon cupcake with yellow edible glitter. Whilst admiring the view from the Sacre Coeur I took this pic of the cupcake which came in a very handy portable cupcake container. The sponge melted in your mouth and I loved the amount of icing. As it was a lemon cupcake I think it could do with a little bit more lemon juice to make it really lemony.

Raspberry tart from Les Magots, ParisNext up was this corker of a raspberry tart in Les Deux Magots in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area. The crème anglaise was yummy and the raspberries were plump and delicious. I did have one other raspberry tart which was superior in fact. It was from La Durée and I devoured it on the Eurostar home but I couldn’t get a snap of it with flash as everyone was fast asleep!

Macarons from La DuréeFinally, I spent a good 20 minutes queuing up for some of these beauties in La Durée. I chose vanilla, blackcurrant, caramel, red berries and chocolate. Six of these will set you back around eight euros. The intensity of flavour was incredible. I loved the blackcurrant and caramel ones. My friend told me that Pierre Hermé (here’s his chocolate macaron recipe) sells delicious ones near le Jardin des Tuileries but I didn’t get time to pop in there. I will have to save that for my next culinary visit to Paris! According to the Daily Telegraph, his book ‘Macaron’ should be publishing this autumn in English so I will be keeping my eyes peeled for that! I’ve done a bit of digging but can’t find it on sale yet so the mystery continues…Finally, if you fancy reading a bit more about macarons and Pierre Hermé, I enjoyed reading He-Eats’ blog post.

Joanna Moore – piping macarons and Maison Bertaux drawings

Piping macarons in kitchen by Joanna Moore

Whilst making macarons on Sunday, my friend Jo Moore (talented artist and blogger) decided to take a break from the baking and do some quick sketches of me piping macarons (you can read her blog post here). In ten minutes, Jo had drawn up this great sketch and it really does look like me in my kitchen! Jo is going to the Prince’s Drawing School in September and is taking as many opportunities as possible to draw whenever she can. Recently, Jo was interviewed for the Spitalfields Life blog about her drawings around Spitalfields. It makes for a fascinating read and is great to hear about someone so passionate for her craft. I find Jo a very inspiring person to be around and no matter how hard the macarons were to bake, we were both laughing all day together in the kitchen. She’s also sketched a great drawing of the Maison Bertaux patisserie in Soho below so I think I will be having to make a stop there soon to try out their great cakes!

Maison Bertaux patisserie by Joanna Moore

The quest for the perfect macaron…

And here it is…I didn’t get my perfect batch of macarons, but I did get this one beauty which was as close as I could get it! It’s about the right size, shape and is filled with yummy dark chocolate ganache (dark chocolate, extra thick double cream and a dash of butter). 6.5 hours of baking for one macaron!! Can you imagine the elation when I stuck the two halves together with gooey choc ganache and it looked pretty good! I was over joyed! I just wished I had created more of them. Apparently, part of the macaron magic is to food process the ground almond until it is super super fine and this helps with smoothness and ensures that the macaron isn’t too heavy so rises just right. Another technique to experiment with. For now though, a little rest from macarons but do let me know any tips you might have and I will revisit macaron making one day soon!

Macaron making!

Pink macaron, french petit fourToday, my friend and I (you can read her wonderful arty blog here) set out to make our first ever marcarons. After a bit of reading this week, I found out I’d been spelling it wrong and really I should be spelling it the French way. Macaroons are those traditional almond meringue biscuits with a cherry or almond on top which your Granny might have baked for you. Or you may have tried coconut macaroons. Macarons are the elusive, delicious French petit fours which come in all sorts of different flavours such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio.

We tried three different recipes and were hoping to pull off strawberry, chocolate and vanilla with salted caramel by the end of the day. We didn’t realise what a huge challenge we had set ourselves. We knew it was going to be difficult after reading lots of blog posts about how hard they were to get right but we thought we have all day, surely we’ll get one batch right.

First up was this strawberry macaron recipe (see pic above). The first batch cracked pretty much as soon as we brought it out of the oven…Hmm we thought – not to worry this is our first batch. The baking parchment we were using from Waitrose’s essential range literally crumbled or stuck to our macarons and rendered them useless. Chocolate macarons, French petit foursNext up was this chocolate macaron recipe from David Lebovitz. This recipe took him seven attempts before he perfected it! We realised we’d made the macarons too small when we’d piped them and we also tried them on the top shelf and the middle shelf of the oven. Middle shelf was definitely the way to go. The grease proof paper ruined those ones too.

After a trip out for some Sainburys greaseproof paper and some lunch we started again. This time we tried this cardamon meringue recipe and adapted it with a couple of drops of vanilla extract and instead of cream of tartar we put in a couple of twists from the salt grinder. Vanilla macarons before going in the ovenWe didn’t have any cardamon pods either. Aha! We were getting closer but still they looked a bit thin and not the lovely plump smooth macarons we were looking for. We tried one more chocolate batch. Nope – they cracked and looked a bit horrendous.

At this point we decided to do the fillings. We used some extra thick double cream and some homemade strawberry jam made by one of the chefs from the British Medical Association who knows my flatmate. Tis delicious strawberry jam, the smell of strawberries knocks you for six in the best fruity way you can imagine. It’s like about 50 punnets of strawberries have been fitted into one jam jar. Vanilla macaron with thick double cream and strawberry jamWe happened upon the idea of vanilla macarons with cream and strawberry jam. It was like a macaron cream tea! Brilliant! We ate loads of them. For the chocolate macarons (the ones we could salvage from the greaseproof paper) we just used the double cream.

My friend had to leave then, she had been baking with me for five hours and took some of the filled macarons with her. By now I was on such a huge sugar high I decided I just had to continue and find the perfect macaron. I peered in the free range egg box…I had just two eggs left. I cleared the decks, washed everything up again, rolled up my sleeves and took a deep breath. I made two more batches, one of the vanilla recipe with a dash of red food colouring and one of the chocolate recipe.

Pink macaronThe pink ones were not bad but I forgot to add the vanilla extract (whoops!) and from the piping I hadn’t got them quite smooth/flat enough, despite letting them dry for a whole hour! Right, one egg left…I prayed to the cake gods that this would be the batch I cooked correctly. I swapped to a different piping nozzle – about 1/2 an inch thick and stumbled across a different piping technique – don’t go swirling round in a circle – you’ll end up piping a macaron which looks more like a dog poo – see pic below! (excuse the crudeness but that’s what the chocolate ones looked like previously). I realised you had to give the piping bag one long squeeze then stop. It is quite hard not to get a little raised bit after you finished piping but after a bit of trial and error, I got the odd one right. Chocolate macaronThen no drying out with this recipe, but I gave the baking sheet about 20 taps on the top of the cooker to smooth out the little raised bits on top. Sure enough some of them started to look like promising macarons. In to the oven they went, gas mark 4, 15 mins, middle shelf.

If anyone out there can offer up a decent macaron recipe which is consistently good, please let me know! I felt like a failed chemist in her science laboratory today. Macaron making is less about cooking and more about science. I’ve never felt such a range of emotions from baking before – there was despondency, excitement, hope, darned right frustration and perplexity. Much scratching of heads and almost foot stamping at failed batch after another.

And did I get my perfect macaron batch? You’ll have to wait ’til the next blog post to find out…

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