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.

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