A Harrods Christmas hamper, and a champagne chiffon cake

Christmas hampers are one of those things that are synonymous with the holiday season. Each departmental store has it’s own twist on the Christmas hamper – but there is one thing they all have in common: they are all beautifully packaged. Because good things come in beautifully wrapped packages, no?

Harrods is, of course, one of the stores that has some gorgeous hampers on offer – they range from affordable (under £50) to ‘blow the budget’ (over £2000!). Don’t get me wrong through, the more affordable hampers certainly shouldn’t be scoffed at, and make an equally impressive gift.

I recently received a Harrods ‘Pamper Hamper’, which contained pink champagne truffles, Marc de champagne milk chocolate truffles, Laduree candles, a Laduree room spray, and a bottle of rose champagne. A perfect girly present really. Just look at all the lovely pastel colours… (sorry, boys.)

A special mention is needed for the gorgeous rattan basket/box housing the gifts within. It was so pretty that I could not bear to put it away – and this is how it has earned its place as my Christmas tree ‘stand’. Looks much better than my makeshift stand from last year, might I add.

harrods hamper 1

We’re not huge drinkers (we drink the occasional glass of wine/bubbly), so I thought I would use the leftover champagne in a chiffon cake. I know it hasn’t made it on to the blog, but I’ve been on a chiffon cake kick recently – I’m enjoying experimenting with various flavours and combinations of recipes, and am still in search of my perfect, ‘even bubbled’ chiffon. As you can see from my photos, I am not quite there yet. But practice makes perfect, and I’m certainly not complaining about the sampling I get to do along the way!

There’s just something about the lightness of chiffon cakes that make them so addictive. I can honestly eat half a cake in one sitting, and be under the impression that I have not consumed any calories whatsoever. Ha. Delusional much?

A few notes on chiffon cakes – 1) Never ever grease the tube pan. You need the batter to ‘grip’ onto the sides, so it can rise up high. This is why tube pans all have a smooth flat edge (as opposed to bundt tins which have intricate designs), as you have to run an offset spatula/knife around the tin to release the cake at the end of the baking/cooking process. 2) Patience is key! The cake needs to be left to cool (upside down) before you cut into it. Yes, this is unfortunately one of those cakes that you can’t dive into straight out of the oven – if you do so, the cake will end up dense and we can’t have that now can we? 3) Try not to overmix the batter. Treat the batter gently when folding in the whipped eggwhites. I find that mixing in 1/3 of the eggwhites in the first instance loosens up the batter, and makes the subsequent folds much easier. You can also be a little less gentle with the first ‘fold’.

Champagne chiffon cake
Makes one 20cm chiffon cake

  • 190g cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 130g champagne
  • 50g corn oil
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 egg whites
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 165’C (fan forced).
2. Sieve the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk the egg yolks and 50g sugar in a large mixing bowl, until the yolks turn thick and pale. Add the champagne, corn oil and vanilla extract, and whisk until just combined.
4. Slowly add in the sieved dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture, whisking whilst you add. Ensure there are no lumpy bits in your mix.
5. In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they become foamy. Add in the 50g caster sugar and cream of tartar (if using) gradually, and continue whisking until you reach stiff peaks.
6. Add 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to your cake mixture – this helps to loosen the cake mix.
7. In 2 additions, fold in the remaining egg whites into the cake mixture, until just combined. You should ideally not see any lumps of whites. Take care to not overmix though!
8. Pour the cake batter into an ungreased, 20cm chiffon cake tin (tube pan).
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean.
10. Remove tin from oven, invert, and leave to cool upside down (either by sticking the tin on a bottle top, or placing it on a wire rack if your tin has ‘feet’). Leave the cake to cool completely.
11. Once cooled, run a knife along the edges of the tin, and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cut, serve, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I received a Harrods Pamper Hamper as a gift, but all opinions expressed are my own.
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Plum Valley Restaurant, Chinatown

I’m a creature of habit. I not only frequent the same restaurants, but I also order the exact same thing most of the time. Unsurprisingly, I have my list of favourite Chinese/dim sum restaurants in London. In fact, I don’t think I have tried dim sum at any place that isn’t on that list in recent years.

Having said that, I do like discovering other good restaurants, and had the opportunity to do so recently, courtesy of Cox and Kings. Cox and Kings are one of the world’s oldest travel companies, and pride themselves on specialising in high quality cultural (both group and private) holidays all over the world. In particular, they have a wonderful selection of holidays to China (a country I am yet to explore!). In line with the whole “China” theme, they invited a group of bloggers to review a selection of restaurants in Chinatown – with the aim of showcasing the range and standard of Chinatown eateries.

So this is how I ended up at Plum Valley.

Plum Valley offer both an a la carte and dim sum menu, but we chose the latter as it would allow us to sample a wider variety of their dishes. It also enabled me to perform a fairer assessment of the food, as dim sum offerings tend to be fairly standard (with a few exceptions, naturally!)

plum valley har kau

Prawn dumplings (Har kau). These steamed dumplings are a dim sum staple, and are personally a must order for me, especially in a new restaurant. These were good, with thin skins and a succulent prawn filling.

plum valley siu mai

Pork & prawn dumplings (Siu mai). Whilst the prawn dumplings were good, the siu mai unfortunately fell a little short. The pork used for the dumpling fillings seemed a tad too gelatinous, which resulted in a rather chewy texture.

plum valley black cod dumpling

Black cod dumplings. I was intrigued by these, as it was something that’s not seen commonly on dim sum menus. I was rather excited when they came to the table, as they looked rather intricate and pretty! Unfortunately they did not taste as good as they looked – the dumpling skin was very doughy, which led to a rather sandy texture. The black cod filling also seemed to be slightly overcooked. A shame, because this held much promise.

plum valley crispy eel cheung fun

Crispy eel cheung fun. I am a huge fan of contrasting textures, and this certainly delivered. The crispy fried eel worked well with the soft cheung fun – although it admittedly tasted a little more Japanese than Chinese!

plum valley scallop dumpling

Scallop dumplings. I was surprised to see them using some gold leaf on the top of these – pretty yes, but rather un-Chinese really. These tasted fine, but I would have preferred a larger piece of scallop – I suspect a whole scallop had been sliced into three to top these, which is a little stingy. I would prefer to pay more and get a whole scallop, but perhaps that is just my greed talking.

plum valley chicken feet in black bean sauce

Chicken feet in black bean sauce. This was cooked well, and had good flavour.

plum valley venison yam puff

Venison yam puffs. A slight tweak on the classic yam puffs. The ‘yam puff’ bit was rather well executed, but the venison filling lacked that ‘oomph’ I was hoping for.

plum valley xo fried rice

XO fried rice. The humble fried rice, which should be easy to whip up, is in reality quite a hard dish to get right. One of the most important aspects of any wok-fried dish is something called ‘wok hei’, which not-so-literally translates to “breath of the wok”. This dish had plenty of this, and was something I’d order again. Doesn’t look like much, but it delivered on taste.

A quick note on other aspects of the restaurant: Service (which is often poor or non-existent in many Chinatown restaurants) was actually pretty good – the food arrived in good time, and all requests were promptly dealt with.

Lastly, decor was fairly modern, with a decent amount of space between the tables. A little too posh perhaps, but in all fairness they market themselves as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. I would have preferred it if the dining area was slightly better lit though – this is purely a personal preference stemming from the fact that I never saw a dimly lit Chinese restaurant growing up!

pplum valley dim sum

So yes – there were highs and lows of the meal. I cannot say I would rush back to dine here, but I would not rule out returning to try other offerings on their menu. At the end of it all, I feel that the quality of food is similar to the other Chinatown restaurants I have tried – but I maintain that better dim sum can be found outside Chinatown itself.

plum valley

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown
London W1D 6JQ

Disclaimer: I dined at Plum Valley courtesy of Cox and Kings, and also received a wine voucher as a token of appreciation. However, all views expressed above are my own. This review will also be published in ‘Compass’, their in-house travel magazine.

In photos: The Cake & Bake Show 2012

The Cake & Bake Show. I was intrigued from the moment I heard about it – UK’s first baking exhibition, with the promise of stars such as Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and *gasp* Peggy Porschen… how could I not be interested?

I almost didn’t get a chance to attend, as I was originally supposed to work this weekend. Am very glad I managed to swap out of it, as I genuinely enjoyed the show, and picked up a LOT of cake and cookie decorating tips. Very handy as I do enjoy the occasional spot of cookie decorating!

Peggy Porschen’s Parlour – featuring a selection of her jams, sweet treats, books & cake stands. There were also free sessions held throughout the day (on a first come, first served basis) – couture cookies (which I attended), butterfly cookies, rose cupcakes etc.

One of Peggy’s wedding cakes, carefully housed in a glass box.

Naomi explaining the best way to fold a piping bag.

Flooding cookies with ‘flooding icing’.

Close ups of the process on the screen – oh, all that precision! It puts my efforts at cookie decorating to shame. Ha!

The finished product – so pretty! Might do something similar soon, as this is actually a fairly simple design (comparatively). Just a note to mention that Peggy’s recipes for sugar cookies are by far, the BEST I’ve used to date. They spread very little, and taste delicious.

The rose cupcakes which were featured in one of the other sessions.

And most importantly – I met Peggy! Highlight of the show, to me anyway. I love her work (I use her recipes for all my cookie and cake decorating), so it was great to chat to her. She’s like my ‘Bill Granger’ for decorating. Ahem. She is lovely, and signed a copy of her book for me (yay). I also got a photo with her, though admittedly it comes second to *that* photo of Bill & I (and Mowie)…

The very popular Squires Kitchen stand.

Cupcake cases in all the colours of the rainbow! If I didn’t already have a ridiculous collection (including some of the light blue polka dotted ones that you can see in the photo), I would have totally stocked up. Sadly I do not have the space (nor funds) to do so…

Paddi Clark (whom I admittedly hadn’t heard of before the show) was at the Squires Kitchen stand, and was showing the crowd how she made her sugar flowers. I picked up a few useful tips, which I hope to put to use very soon!

The finished product. I’m such a sucker for pretty things..

A very graceful ballerina cake, by Carlos Lischetti. There’s just something about his work that was different and very refreshing. I believe he has a book called ‘Animation in Sugar’ coming out shortly, and this is one of the cakes featured.

Another example of Carlos Lischetti’s work. I’m not a fan of fondant covered cakes, but yet, I am always impressed by what people can achieve with it.

Mich Turner’s Little Venice Cake Company stand. The chocolate/lime cake on the far right was absolutely stunning!

Falcon Products/Bake-O-Glide stall. I picked up a non-slip roll out mat from here, I’ve been looking for something like this but didn’t want to buy it online as I wouldn’t get a chance to see it before hand. It’s really quite useful as it can be placed on any worktop, and its super smooth surface allows you to roll out pastry, sugarpaste, knead bread etc on it. They also sold silicone mats (similar to Silpats) – if you haven’t used one before, you’re missing out on it’s amazingness!

More silicone moulds from Silkomat. I almost bought the purple mini “bundt” one, but felt that the person I spoke to was slightly unhelpful/unfriendly. Maybe it was because she were tired (it was late in the day by then), but still… So I didn’t buy it.

Dr Oetker stall. They had various demonstrations throughout the day, but I didn’t catch any. This was a good place to head to if you wanted to rest your feet, as they provided a fair number of benches here.

British Sugarcraft Guild stand. The detail and effort that had gone into each piece was quite simply, amazing.

But nothing floored me more than this ‘tea table’ display from the Maidstone branch of the British Sugarcraft Guild. EVERYTHING you see in the photo was modelled from sugarpaste. From the plates, to the sandwiches, to the teapot, to the cake knife. Not surprised that they won a Gold Award for their efforts at the National BSG exhibition earlier this year.

Even the bunting was made from sugar! Just check out how intricate the work is…

There was also an ‘Edible Beach Bake Competition‘ exhibit – for both professionals and non-professionals. There were at least 50 cakes on display (I think), but I only took photos of my favourites.. the pastel cake above (professional category) won a certificate of merit.

This was the winner of the professional category. A photo of the whole cake doesn’t do it justice (as you can’t see the detail), so I chose a close up photo instead. It doesn’t look as good in the photo, but believe me, those mussels looked pretty darn realistic to my eyes!

The winner of the non-professional category. I suspect this won due to its originality – everyone had a sandcastle or a beach scene, this was one of the only ‘beach food’ cakes on display.

I thought this was really cute!

A rather impressive sandcastle.

A Brighton-themed cake – I think this was from the non-professional category, but I might be mistaken.

Cute cupcake from Gingercups. It was hard to miss their stall, which was bright pink, and manned by two lovely ladies (whose names escape me!). They’re currently based in Hertfordshire and are looking for a site in London, and I hope they manage it. They’d fit in perfectly to the whole Soho vibe. Plus, the cupcake I tried (Ruby – strawberry & cream with a jam centre) was delicious. The icing was admittedly a little too sweet for me, but to be fair, I find ALL cupcake icings way too sweet. So I always just eat the ‘cake’ bit. 😉

The lovely girls at the Gingercups counter. The one on the right is the founder/owner of the company. They had incredibly bubbly personalities to go along with their cupcakes – a win win combination!

Cathryn and Sarah Jane (from the current season of Great British Bake Off) in the Cake Kitchen. I’m rooting for Cathryn, I like her and I think she doesn’t believe in how good she is (like Jo from last season) – so it would be great if she could go all the way. I also like Danny though… can’t stop myself from supporting a medic! An intensivist no less. We will have to wait and see who wins!

Phew. That was a lot of photos. And there are more – but I chose the better ones for the post, naturally. I rarely blog about something so promptly, but I truly enjoyed myself at the show, and as such wanted to document it before my ailing memory forgot any details. That said, I can see how some people might not enjoy it as much as me, as there was a heavy emphasis (I thought) on sugarcraft/decorating work – and if this is not something that interests you, you might get bored…

For those of you who are wondering, the majority of the stalls were selling baking/decorating equipment. There were a few stalls that were selling cupcakes, and there was a cafe area – but I suspect more food/drink stalls might have been welcome. Because let’s face it, we can never have too much cake. 😉 For instance, I wish that Peggy Porschen’s Parlour had brought some cupcakes along to sell in their stand.

There were also classes available at the event (but these incurred an extra charge), which included tutorials on bread baking and macarons.

So yes. It was a good day out for me, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s show!

Edit: I’ve just read some of the comments/feedback about the show on their Facebook site, and a number of people mentioned the lack of food/drink options (and the long queues + the fact that they ran out of food), the lack of stalls selling baking equipment (e.g. tins), and the fact that the classrooms were not fully enclosed – so other non-paying people could just hover around and watch the class as well. All fair comments – though none really applied to me as I went in between mealtimes, love decorating, and already own lots of cake tins. I do hope they improve though, as I would love for this show to become a regular fixture.

The Cake & Bake Show
23-23 September 2012
Earls Court, London
http://thecakeandbakeshow.co.uk/

*Disclaimer: I was invited to attend the Cake & Bake Show, but all views expressed above are my own. Also – I chose to write this post although there was no stipulation that I had to do so, I did it because I wanted to. 

In photos: Taste of London 2011

Yes. You read that right. This is a post about Taste of London 2011, twelve whole months ago. This is the problem with eating too much, and not blogging enough..

But anyway, since Taste is coming up again in a matter of days (21st-24th June 2012), I thought it’d be best to post the photos from last year. You know, because technically it’s still ‘current’, as this years event hasn’t taken place yet. (Who am I kidding?) But better late than never, right?

For those of you who don’t know what Taste is all about, you can read more about it in my previous blog post here. Or you can visit their website here.

Warm smoked Loch Var Salmon, lemon verbena jelly, pickled cucumber and sweet rye from Skylon. This came second in the ‘Best of Taste’ awards.

Iberico pork & foie gras burger from Opera Tavern. This was my favourite dish of the day. I’ve since tried it in the restaurant itself, and I still love it. In fact, it’s one of my top ten dishes in London!

Jamon carving at the Opera Tavern stand

Spicy duck popcorn from Club Gascon

Now, I have no recollection of what this dish is (besides the fact that it’s a terrine), nor any inkling of which restaurant it was from. I only remember liking the pistachios in it… I’d look it up in the Menu Card but I can’t find it. Highly annoying, especially when I have the menus for 2009 and 2010 (and I thought, for 2011) safely on my bookshelf. I bet I’ll find the menu after I publish this post… Sod’s Law.

Foie gras burger & summer truffle from Club Gascon. This won the ‘Best in Taste’ Award – but I must say I personally preferred Opera Tavern’s burger.

Summer truffle risotto from Gauthier Soho. This was so good that we booked a table at Gauthier for the following month.

Lamb cutlets (I think) from somewhere.. another dish I can’t recall. Apologies!

Mexican doughnuts with mojito sorbet from Asia de Cuba. I really liked these, and they were a great sweet to end the day with.

I never fail to stop by the JINGTea stall…

… because who can resist good tea? 😉

The Laverstoke Park Farm stall, with lots of little nibbles.

Buffalo milk ice cream – very good indeed!

Whole Foods ‘spin the wheel’ challenge. I LOVE Whole Foods. I’m a little obsessive when it comes to arranging stuff perfectly, and the way they arrange the produce in Whole Foods in perfect pyramids… *swoon*.

Malaysian food stall, with some VERY important pantry staples most Malaysians have in their pantries (minus the ‘kacang botol‘, which is perishable – we tend to eat this with ‘nasi ulam‘). Milo is probably my favourite of the lot (I even made a Milo ice cream!), but Nestum comes a close second. And for those of you chilli lovers, you MUST try Maggi’s sos cili bawang putih (garlic chilli sauce). It’s quite different from Siracha as it has a different kick. I always have both Maggi and Siracha to hand. 🙂

Waitrose Cooking School session – I think they were making pavlovas with strawberries…

Blue skies (this was when it wasn’t pouring with rain – the weather was very erratic!).

They didn’t have these tables set up previously, it was good to have these as it gets quite hard to eat and balance your plate at the same time!

Try to pretend you don’t see the copious amounts of mud on the ground…

And that, dear readers, is my take on Taste 2011. It wasn’t easy to remember everything from a year ago – certainly a good reason to be a little less tardy with the blogging!

* If this post has made you curious, do check out my more comprehensive post on Taste 2010 here (which in comparison, I blogged about very promptly).

Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social

In my last post, I mentioned that I would be making a few changes to the way I blogged to ensure I’d be able to blog more often. One of these changes will be to do more ‘photo’ orientated posts, where I won’t write much – I’ll let the photos do the talking instead. I will primarily do this for restaurant and travel posts, as I was never all that good at describing dishes anyway! This will hopefully allow me to blog more regularly whilst I’m on my ‘student’ year.

I visited the very talked about Pollen Street Social recently, and this was what I ate:

Dining area

I adore the little ridged platter that the butter was served on – I would LOVE to have one of these. Ah, the joys of prop hoarding. 😉

Warm bread rolls – I enjoyed the french loaf (pictured above), and the mixed seed roll.

Full English breakfast – tomato puree, slow poached egg, crispy bacon pieces, crispy croutons and morels. The tomato puree was an intensely tomato-ey, and absolutely delicious.

Escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts and seeds. Perfectly cooked quail – need I say more?

Roasted halibut, Catalan paella, sprouting broccoli and pork-ham fat. The paella.. oh, my. Absolutely delicious. Better than any paella than I have eaten in Spain, thus far anyway!

Braised oxtail with carrots and mash. Don’t let the simple description of the dish fool you, for this packed a whole lot of flavour, and was a total ‘comfort food’ type dish.

The much talked about Dessert Bar

Pastry Chef Emily hard at work

(Complimentary) ice cream – passionfruit ice cream and lime sorbet. The passionfruit ice cream stood out for me, as it had a perfect balance of tartness and sweetness.

PBJ – a playful twist on the traditional peanut butter & jam sandwich. Peanut parfait (which tasted like frozen peanut butter!), cherry sorbet, cheery tagiatelle, cherry halves, cherry jellies, and toasted rice puffs. One of my favourite restaurant desserts, ever. I would happily eat this over and over and over again.

Tiramisu. This is one for any chocolate lover: dark chocolate mousse, chocolate shards, chocolate ‘fronds’, chocolate sand, mascarpone mousse, and kirsch jelly cubes. Served with chocolate coffee on the side (which can be drunk separately, or poured on top of the tiramisu).

The ‘chocolate’ coffee. Luxurious, thick and creamy. I couldn’t actually finish this as I hit my level of chocolate overload (which is very hard to do, believe me!).

View of the kitchen, from the dessert bar

Pollen Street Social in a nutshell:
– Lovely food, and brilliant desserts
– Dessert Bar – an inspired idea!
– Service was good, but not fantastic
– The set lunch menu is excellent value for money – but skip the desserts on the set menu, and choose something from the full dessert menu
I’m definitely going back! 🙂

EDIT: Pollen Street Social has been awarded one Michelin star, which is very well deserved! Extremely pleased for Jason Atherton and his team (and my tummy).

Pollen Street Social
8-10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
+44 (0)20 7290 7600
www.pollenstreetsocial.com

A Taste of Green & Blacks, and a chocolate sheet cake!

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Green & Blacks event. For those of you who haven’t heard of Green & Blacks – where have you been??! (Kidding.) The event was held at the gorgeous Miele showroom, which is so well equipped I seriously wished I could move in.

I did ponder whether or not I should blog about this (seeing as it happened so long ago), but decided to as I honestly had an amazing time that evening. Plus, it’s always nice to blog about something you love (=chocolate). 😀

I’ve always been a massive fan of G&B chocolates (both their eating and cooking range is fantastic) – in fact you would be slightly alarmed at the number of G&B products I have stashed in my kitchen. From the 150g chocolate bars to their cocoa powder, I have it all. In fact, I have multiples of each. What can I say? I’m Chinese, and I’m “kiasu” (roughly translated as “afraid to lose”, or in this case “afraid to be without chocolate”).

The event was aptly called “Taste of Green & Blacks“, and was held in conjunction with their search for an assistant to Head of Taste Micah Carr-Hill. Yes, they are hiring! So if you think you’ve got what it takes, apply here to be in the running to become Green & Blacks Taste Assistant. Or, if you’re not particularly looking for a new job, you could apply to be part of the Taste Panel which will be made up of 30 people who are passionate about Green & Black’s chocolate. Winners will receive a copy of their new cookbook “Ultimate” and complimentary chocolate to be reviewed in their own time.
The lovely Gail, who coordinated the entire event beautifully.
G&B Head of Taste Micah Carr-Hill, explaining how the evening would unfold. The main event would be 15:15, where contestants had to cook a meal of their choosing in 15 minutes… with a budget of £15! The grand prize for being declared the winner of this challenge was a shiny new red KitchenAid mixer – certainly motivation indeed!

But before the excitement of 15:15, we were given a short talk by Matthew Stokes, who spoke about the science of taste. He briefly spoke of the five basic tastes (bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami), and also talked about the flavourings (both natural and artificial) that are used in chocolate. He emphasised the importance of the sense of smell when it comes to tasting food and drink, and then passed out some smells – from the very pleasant vanillin, to the slightly unpleasant “smelly feet” scent of butyric acid.

Edd Kimber of He Eats having a sniff of one of the smells that were handed out – he doesn’t look too upset, so I bet this was the vanillin…

And then it was time for the 15:15 challenge, where nine brave souls battled it out for the glory (and the KitchenAid). It was interesting to walk around and see them hard at work during the course of the challenge, and I must say I was very impressed with how calm they seemed! I suspect I would have been in a complete flap if it had been me cooking.

Luiz of The London Foodie doing his thing – he even managed to sneak in some G&B cocoa powder in his savoury dish (you will be amazed to see what he managed to cook in 15 minutes, trust me).

Kavey of Kavey Eats carefully prepping the pears for her chutney.

MiMi of Meemalee’s Kitchen still managed to have a huge grin on her face despite waiting anxiously for her water to reach a boil…

In the midst of the 15:15 madness, we were invited to guess the ingredients used in the two “mystery ganaches“. Mystery ganache #1 was a white chocolate ganache with a very strong taste of lemon and vanilla… as well as a very familiar taste I just could not put my finger on. It turned out to be white tea and lime – no wonder I felt it was familiar, bearing in mind my obsession with tea!

Mystery ganache #2 completely stumped me. Apart from identifying the dark chocolate (which anyone would be able to do just by looking at the photo), I simply could not figure out what Micah had put into it. Turns out everyone felt the same, as Micah revealed at the end of the night that no one had got the ingredients right for ganache #2 – which contained coriander and coriander seeds! I would have honestly never guessed that in a million years, good job I’m not trying to apply to work for G&B as I would fail miserably at the whole selection process.

There were also two mystery cocktails (specially created for the night by Drinks Fusion), and we were again asked to guess which spirits/other ingredients they contained. Now I don’t drink very much at all, so I was honestly at a complete loss with this.

Drinks and nibbles were also served throughout the night, and whilst they look teeny – don’t be fooled. Have one too many and you will be stuffed….

But let me get back to the 15:15 challenge. Here are some of the dishes that were put forward…

Luiz’s dish of grilled quail with rose petals and dark chocolate. This was my favourite dish of the night – for one, it looked very impressive, and the scattering of rose petals really elevated ‘wow’ factor of the dish. The quail was cooked beautifully, and was tender, juicy and flavoursome. I’m so glad I’ve found his recipe, as I’ll have to try it out. Plus now I know it can be done in 15 minutes, i.e. can be cooked on a weekday night! 😉

Jack’s dish of pan fried scallops wrapped in pancetta, with pesto and capers. Doesn’t it look absolutely amazing? Those who did had very satisfied looks on their faces though. This looked very good, and I was upset that I didn’t get to try it – you snooze, you lose. 😦

MiMi‘s dish of shimeji shiso pasta – basically linguini, shimeji mushrooms, salmon roe (ikura) and shiso leaf. Now, I’m a massive fan of both shimeji mushrooms and ikura, so this was a no brainer really. Loved the combination of flavours in her dish, and I’m sure I’ll be making something similar at some point!

Simon’s dish of duck with a quince and peppercorn sauce, served with a cassoulet, and edamame with green beans in a basil emulsion. Phew. Even the name of the dish is enough to tell you that he accomplished an astounding amount of cooking in 15 minutes. Unfortunately this was another one of those ‘snooze/lose’ moments, as I didn’t get to try any of it.

Micah tasting MiMi’s dish. He was a perfect judge, and had a completely straight face when tasting the dishes. There was no indication whatsoever of whether or not he liked or disliked a dish. He’d be a good poker player I reckon…

And then it was time to end the night by announcing the winners of the various competitions that had been held over the course of the event. First up was the winner of the “mystery cocktail” challenge – Jennifer of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours won this, and walked away with her prize of some Riedel glassware. The cocktails turned out to be an Orange & Ginger Alexander (Cognac shaken with melted Green & Black’s chocolate and fresh cream, seasoned with ginger and orange served straight up with a dust of dark chocolate), and a Moth Flower (Black Moth Truffle Vodka, crème de mure, Noilly Prat dry vermouth and a of touch lavender eaux de vie shaken with fresh lemon and sugar, served straight up with violet foam).

Then for the winner of the ‘mystery ganache’ challenge – Micah said that he might have to make it easier next time around, as no one really got the right answers for them! (Phew, maybe my tastebuds aren’t too shot then). But, there was one person who had gotten fairly close at guessing the ingredients in ganache #2 -and that person was the lovely MiMi! She had correctly guessed that there was tea in the white chocolate ganache, and although she guessed green instead of white tea, it was still enough to see her walk away with her prize of Kyle Cathie cookbooks.

But really, we were all the most interested to hear who had won the shiny red KitchenAid. After telling us how impressed he was at the quality of the dishes on offer, Micah revealed that MiMi was the winner of the 15:15 challenge! She was completely flabbergasted, bless her. Just check out that massive grin on her face! 🙂

And now, in the spirit of all things chocolate – I’d like to share one of my favourite chocolate cake recipes. It’s a recipe from Ree (that’s Ree the Pioneer Woman), and it’s absolutely scrumptious. I’ve made it countless times, and everyone always loves it (and they usually ask for the recipe as well!). Another plus is that it’s very simple to whip up, and takes less than an hour from start to finish. Now, that’s what I call satisfying baking. 😉 A word of warning though, there is a LOT of butter in this… (and I’ve already cut down on some, haha).

Chocolate sheet cake
Slightly adapted from Pioneer Woman’s recipe

For the cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa (I used Green & Blacks)
  • 230g butter
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the frosting:

  • ½ cup finely chopped nuts (e.g. pecans, walnuts)
  • 80g butter
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 tablespoons icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 175’C.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt.
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan/pot over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the cocoa and stir until combined.
4. Add the boiling water to the saucepan/pot, allow mixture to the boil for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat. Leave to cool for 1-2 minutes.
5. Pour the butter/cocoa/water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
6. In a small bowl, mix the buttermilk, beaten eggs, baking soda and vanilla.
7. Stir the buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture, and mix until well combined.
8. Pour into a sheet cake pan, and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

9. While the cake is baking, make the icing.
10. Melt the butter in a saucepan/pot (I usually use the same pot from before). Add the cocoa, stir to combine, then turn off the heat.
11. Add the milk, vanilla and icing sugar, and stir well.
12. Lastly, add the nuts to the icing mixture, stir well, and leave aside until the cake comes out of the oven.

13. Once the cake is baked, pour the icing over the warm cake and leave it to set. Or if you prefer, you can eat it whilst it’s all warm and gooey – you pick!

Discovering the joys of tea

I used to be one of those people that rarely drank any tea or coffee. I remember wondering why my parents were such avid fans of coffee and tea, and how people could go through countless cups of coffee or tea each day.

Then one day I tried the most amazing cup of tea that my aunt had brought back from China. Prior to this, I’d only tried those cheap-ish stuff you get in Chinese restaurants/kopitiams (coffee shops), and as such had never really taken to tea. That’s probably when I realised that there are good teas out there (you’d think I’d have realised it sooner)… and since then, there’s been no turning back.

This curiosity about tea (and the power of google) is what led me to discover JING Tea. JING is a fairly new tea company run by Edward Eisler and his team. They pride themselves on offering definitive examples of Asia’s greatest teas, which are sourced from the world’s finest tea farmers in China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan and Taiwan. Their entire range of teas are skilfully hand-processed and then vacuum-packed at its source to ensure freshness.

It was initially the simple yet effective design of the site that drew me to JING (because let’s face it, first impressions always count). Then I tried their teas… and I was hooked. At time of typing, I think I have at least ten gold packages of various JING teas sitting in my cupboards. What can I say? I like variety. (This problem also extends to things like cereal. And instant noodles. And preserves. Okay maybe I have issues.)

Lishan tea farm in Taiwan – one of the premier tea regions in Taiwan where JING sources their tea.

The quality of JING is undeniable – even Heston agrees as he uses their tea in the Fat Duck (for that mind boggling hot & cold tea of his). JING also supplies tea to The Lanesborough, Harrods, Brown’s hotels, and the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounges.

So when David asked if I would like to review their Tea Explorer set, it was a no brainer really. A chance to further expand my JING tea collection? Yes, please!

The JING Tea Explorer is specially designed with the new tea drinker in mind – whether it is you or a friend who is new to tea (with no clue if you would prefer white/black/green/yellow tea), the Explorer is perfect for you. Why? Because the Explorer covers every type of tea they stock, from fresh spring green teas, to rich oolongs, and delicate white teas. Thinking back, I really wish I had this set at the start of my whole tea “discovering”, as it certainly would have given me a good overview of what is available. And of course which types of tea I prefer.

My favourite tea in the Explorer is the jasmine pearls green tea. This was one of the first teas I tried from JING, and it has remained a firm favourite. They come in “pearls” (as their name suggests) – each of these pearls are actually handmade, believe it or not! Each green tea leaf is hand rolled into a pearl, and then wrapped into paper to help maintain its shape. The pearls are then unwapped, dried, and scented with aromatic jasmine flowers.

And the magic happens when you infuse the pearls – they unravel and release the most divine sweet jasmine aroma, with hints of green tea. Green tea can sometimes be slightly overwhelming and too strong, but this tea is surprisingly mild, and I daresay it would appeal to most palates. It’s also one of their most popular teas, so I can’t be too far off!

One of my other favourites in the set is the yellow gold oolong. I’ve always been a fan of “tie guan yin“(Iron Goddess of Mercy tea), which is also a variety of oolong tea. Comparatively, the yellow gold oolong is less intense – the best way I can think of describing it is “tangy with a hint of sweetness”. I’m sure it’s not the best way to describe it, but I was never one for words. My food vocabulary is rather limited, unfortunately!

The moment you crack open the bag containing the blackcurrant and hibiscus herbal infusion, you are hit with the floral scent of hibiscus. It’s almost impossible to not want to brew it when you smell it, because it reminds you of those lovely sunny days where you sit on the patio sipping tea and eating scones. Well, for me anyway. 😉 It is made from whole (dried) blackcurrants, berries and cracked hibiscus – when infused, it becomes a refreshing fruity infusion. I like drinking it with a splash of honey, as I personally feel this enhances the flavours of the berries.

I also wanted to specifically mention their mini (cooked) pu erh tea. Pu erh tea is well known in China for it’s health benefits, and is strongly believed to help lower cholestrol and have anti-ageing properties. Now of course, I have no idea how true this is but hey, it’s a good excuse to drink pu erh. These mini cakes are known as tuo – and according to Wiki, this name is believed to have originated from the old tea shipping and trading route of the Tuo jiang river. When brewed, these mini tuo’s give rise to an extremely soothing tea, which has a delicate sweetness reminiscent of Japanese plum. Truly one of the best pu erh teas I’ve drunk so far.

I’m not going to review the other teas individually, as I suspect I’ve already bored a large number of readers who may not be as tea-mad as me. So very briefly: The other teas in the Explorer are Organic Dragon Well (a complex flavoured tea which reminds me of spring – if only it WAS spring and not so cold!), Silver Needle (a very light and mellow tea which is low in caffeine), Darjeeling Supreme, Japanese Sencha (you get a sweet yet slightly bitter aftertaste with this), JING Ceylon, and Huo ShanYellow Buds (this one has a slight grassy taste to it, but not so much as to make you feel like you’re actually well… eating grass).

What I also liked about the Explorer was the tea infuser mug (or as JING calls it, Tea-iere) that came with it. I had been bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have a way to drink my (loose) tea at work, and guess what – I now can. It holds approximately 400ml of water, and the fine wire mesh ensures all the tea stays within the mug itself.

If the teas in the Explorer don’t appeal to you, you can check out JING Tea’s entire range of tea sets and gifts here. I’m itching to get my hands on their double walled tea cups, but have refrained thus far as I’m fast running out of cupboard space in the kitchen. And whilst I’m talking about things I want – I also want to try their matcha, which is supposed to be very good.

And thanks to the lovely people at JING, I am able to offer all Bread et Butter readers a 10% discount off all JING Tea products! All you have to do is to enter the promotion code Bread3TButter at the checkout to enjoy the discount. It’s valid for a 10% discount for one order per customer on the site, and is valid until 20th December 2010. (They ship internationally, and at reasonable rates!)

I think I might just have to buy those double walled tea cups now….

* Non-watermarked photos are courtesy of JING Tea and David Hepburn