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The Goode of small things

Fiendish & Goode 


My cake radar works in mysterious ways. Some time ago it brought me into contact with one Naomi DC who, it turns out, shares my enthusiasm for eating cake and making crumbs. Thanks to a tip off from her, I now know all about Fiendish & Goode. Let’s share the love.

Fiendish & Goode is where the art of baking meets, erm, Art: because Frances, the baker in the duo, studied at Goldsmiths and can’t help making beautiful things. Chux does everything else.

The two of them are on a crusade to champion modern British baking, extol the virtues of butter and generally kill the cupcake. Hooray. I’m on their side already.

The weapon of choice is a selection of marvellous miniature cakes, wielded from their Broadway Market stall in Hackney every Saturday.

The accomplice and I arrived somewhat jaded after a lot of jiggery pokery with London Transport. One minute in the company of the Dainty duo and their wares and we revived completely. You can see why:

So many pretty things

Cardamom white chocolate and raspberry

Gluten free has never looked so good

We plumped for a box of four Dainties; Lemon Drizzle, Bramley Apple, Sticky Coffee Walnut and Parsnip Pecan and Ginger.

Bramley Apple 

This one is gluten-free. I had no idea while I was eating it, but a subsequent fact checking exercise with the Dainty duo revealed its true nature.

There’s no added sugar either, thanks to the natural fructose from plentiful apples, dates, raisins and sultanas.

Ground almonds don’t rise, but the texture achieves airy lightness  all the same.

Luscious moistness without being wet or damp – so often a problem with less accomplished bakers of gluten-free goods.

Sticky Coffee Walnut 

The texture is a triumph.

Real coffee, not essence gives the toffee sauce a less sweet, more urbane attitude.

The flavour hangs back at the first bite then develops beautifully on the palate.

Parsnip Pecan and Ginger 

A textural triumph. Again.

Grated parsnip and ginger compliment each other from start to finish.

Honey and mascarpone topping murmurs convincingly without overpowering.

Lemon Drizzle and Pistachio 

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I gotta tell you, this texture has to be eaten to be believed: exquisite.

Lemony fresh.

Pistachios perfect.

Verdict:

It’s hard to pick a favourite because each one is excellent in its own way. Without exception the quality of the wares (including the gluten-free orange and dark chocolate  we sampled) is wondrous. Suffice to say that I’m going back for more next Saturday and I’ll be buying a bigger box. Or two. Die cupcakes, die.

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Brothers’ take on cheesecake

I don’t get together with cheesecake very often. Too many past encounters have been heavy and stodgy in the middle, with synthetic fruit toppings and woefully inadequate bottoms. The cheesecake that is.

However, when I see something like this, I can be relied upon to give in to temptation.

Cheesecake by the Bamber Brothers: a much lighter, more subtle version of what I’m used to, complete with a gluten-free  lemon meringue option.

I came across the siblings’ nibblings at Netil Market: a tiny trading place that rubs shabby chic shoulders with bigger, more established Broadway Market in Hackney.

The brothers use either mascarpone or ricotta cheese for their wares and bake them, resulting in an airier texture and a rounder, more mellow flavour. They also make a point of not using gelatine. Interesting for  vegetarians who don’t mind a big dollop of dairy.

Strawberry and lemongrass cheesecake

As chocolate is out of bounds during Lent, the accomplice and I were wooed by the thought of strawberry and lemongrass with a ginger biccy base.

What were we thinking?

Lighter, heading-towards-moussy texture works well.

Occasionally there’s a hint of a hint of lemongrass, but it’s elusive to the point of absence.

The strawberry purée topping looks a bit slab-like, but it’s made of natural things so I’m prepared to forgive its aesthetic shortcomings. Unfortunately the flavour is more insipid than subtle.

The base is similarly quiet; not especially gingery, not especially buttery, not especially offensive.

Verdict: Texture is spot on but the rest needs more oomph. You may fare better with a different choice from the blackboard.

The Bamber Brothers show off their knitwear

Would you like a blow-dry with your gluten-free goodies?

Carmina & Lancelot, Bespoke Café and Hairdressing

Here’s something I’ve not seen before: a hairdresser and a café/bistro combined. Coiffuring at one end, all manner of savouries, sweet treats and drinks at the other.

88 Wigmore St, W1U 3RB

If you’re wondering what kind of Health & Safety hoops the owners had to jump through to get this off the ground, the reality isn’t as hair raising as you might think. Literally. Loose hair doesn’t float above a certain footage and the tall glass screening provides a perfect seal against any wayward wisps.

Now then. I could go on about how charming and welcoming Lancelot and Carmina are. And that the place struts a handsome, timelessly elegant style rather than contrived trendiness…

…but I’m not gonna. Let’s cut straight to the cakes.

Ooooohhhhh

I can tell immediately that I’m in the presence of some truly wondrous wares. I just know it. My instinct is confirmed when Carmina gives me the joyful news that she makes everything on the premises and she doesn’t believe in vegetable oil. “Butter is better”  she states unequivocally.

Aahhh

My heart and my arteries are tingling with delight. My inner pig wants a piece of everything. My budget restricts me to two. These here are my picks:

                                                                       Almond cake

There’s a quietness about it that’s sweetly compelling.

Moist, lightly vanilla with a sticky but light texture.

If you’re coeliac it’s your friend and it’s just as lovely if you can take your gluten.

Verdict: Indisputably fine.

                                                                       Chocolate cake

Blow me if this isn’t another gluten-free number

70% dark chocolate. Butter. Sugar.

Assertive cocoa hit that sends my endorphins to a new high.

Dense but not heavy. Rich but not sickly.

Verdict: You coeliacs have never had it so good. Neither have the rest of us.

N.B. Cake and coffee prices aren’t exactly a snip, but considering the quality of the wares and the central location, they won’t make you faint either.

Blondie v Brownie

Even if you don’t eat your greens at St Ali, at least you can look at some.

Now then. It’s taken a while but I’m back at St Ali in Clerkenwell.

It’s about 9 months since it first opened so the cellophane is well and truly off and the honeymoon period long finished. I’m expecting confident, high quality service and comestibles, but would love a splodge of good value too.

I’m greeted as soon as I’m through the door and made to feel very welcome, just like last time. So far so splendid.

The verdant wall is flourishing beautifully and the vibe is relaxed yet purposeful.

The selection of wares is still small, modern and leans towards the antipodes. Prices are edging towards fancy.

Having made my decision I plonk myself at the end of a long table in the window and bask in the winter sunshine.

White chocolate and banana blondie

Some cake heads argue that the blondie is an unnecessary variant in the genre: insipid, sickly and a pale imitation of the original. They may be right. Let’s see.

Small. Neat. Tidy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet white chocolate.

Sweet vanilla.

Sweet banana.

The chewy texture is the most pleasing thing about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verdict:

The ingredients blend into bland and the overall effect is the sum of its parts: sugary.

Passion fruit brownie

I don’t have a passion for this fruit. Far too pippy, gritty and face-puckeringly sharp for my liking, but in the name of research and gluttony, I thought I’d give it a go.

Bigger than the blondie and kind of odd looking don’t you reckon?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The choice of fruit isn’t a good one, but it’s easy to scrape off the pesky pips and just enjoy the intense chocolate chewiness.

Darn fine with a flat white.

Verdict:

Brownie beats blondie. Easy.
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Treasures in the Attic Café

Leafy Berkhamsted is probably better known for being the    birthplace of author Graham Greene, or as the location for a sumptuously restored Art Deco cinema: The Rex.

That’s all very well, but my reason for any outing is usually cake-related and this trip was no exception. Destination: Attic Café, fifth floor, Home & Colonial antiques showroom: a place that laughs  in the face of  wood-laminate and disdains Ikea culture for the carbon-tastic monster it really is.

Walking up stair upon stair to the fifth floor is exercise enough to justify a blow-out once you’ve reached the destination. So, to appease my throbbing calves, the day’s accomplice and I agreed that no less than three substantial choices would suffice.

The Attic Café keeps its wares safe and moist under pristine glass domes along the length of one wall. It’s a reassuring sight and an essential part of good cake husbandry that too many other places ignore.

My delight and anticipation were ramped up a few more notches when our friendly hostess told me that only the chocolate fudge cake isn’t made on the premises, and that everything is made with butter. My favourite favourite ingredient.

Down to business: after  an enthusiastic and knowledgeable recommendation from my NBF (new butter friend), we plumped for Bakewell tart and cream, banana bread and a plain scone with clotted cream and jam.

Bakewell tart

Warmed, heart-rendingly good short-crust pastry.
Moist but not pappy almond paste that’s full in flavour without overpowering.
Fruity jam that isn’t too sugary.
I could have kicked myself for agreeing to share, so made up for it by kicking the accomplice a couple of times. Not hard, but enough for him to notice and move his feet.
Verdict: A tart very well baked.

Banana bread

This wouldn’t have been my choice, but I thought it gracious to capitulate to the accomplice.
I’m not big on sugared banana discs, so this flourish was never going to be a winner with me.
Quite a mild banana flavour.
Quite a moist texture.
Quite filling.
Verdict: Not quite as good as it could be.

Scone, clotted cream and jam

Look at it. And learn.
Remember the confident height and the gentle hue of it.
Take note of the charming wonkiness of it.
Pause to appreciate the perfect soft texture.
Got it? Good: don’t be making do with the rubbish put before you in so many other establishments.
Verdict: This is a scone of simplicity and greatness.

Does the beet go on?

Says what it does on the tin

The Barbican Foodhall is the handsome reinvention of what used to be the Waterside Café. Finished at the end of 2010, it has since scooped two Restaurant And Bar Design Awards this year, plus one  International Hotel & Property Award.

Pats on the back for being pretty are all very well, but what about the wares?

Cupcakes notwithstanding, plus the fact that the items were exposed to every hand, hair and drop of spittle in the vicinity, it was an encouraging start.

As I circled the table, a little boy appeared at my side.

“Caaaaykke. Mummy, loooook, caaayykkke. I want cayyke!”

I nodded my approval, but his Mummy was having none of it and talked loudly of flapjacks at home.

A little pair of hands tightened on the edge of the table,

“Noooo Mummeeeeee. CAYYKE. I want CAYKE.”

I wanted him to have his way of course, but sadly the tot was no match for Mummeeee and he was soon prised away from the table and dragged out of the door, wailing “caayyke, caayyke.”

Bless.

Here’s mine: chocolate and beetroot.

Subtle, sweet beet flavour to the base that compliments the cocoa and is sufficiently tasty.

Good, honest texture and moistness.

Attractive dark red tones to the colour – not a bad idea for a Halloween party.

The root of its downfall was the topping: offputting in shade and flavour.  Margarine I thought: butter icing doesn’t have this kind of whippy, soft, greasy texture and unappealing taste. Also, if it was butter it would be firmer, more dense.

I asked and was told it was butter with a little cream cheese and sugar. I remain sceptical and think that my friendly and obliging server from abroad, may have fuddled up his yellow fats.

Verdict: It won’t become one of my five a day.

Hitting the G-free spot. Again.

Ahem.

I’m back.

That’s not to suggest  that you’ve missed me, but you may have looked occasionally, only to find that the blog post cupboard was bare.

Sorry about that: work took over for a bit.

Without further ado, here’s what’s been going in my cakehole recently.

Large tart, Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien is a chain but it’s a good one: for consistent quality of cake wares, service and over-all yum factor, it kicks the derrières of Paul, Pâtisserie Valerie, Peyton and Byrne and Hummingbird.

I was in their Marylebone High Street branch and the glass cabinet was boasting plenty of cake goodness, but I only had eyes for the large chocolate tart.

The charming French wench nodded approvingly when I stated my choice,

“You weel reely enjoy it non? It is so good: so reech but oh-la-la, ‘ow you say in eenglish, more-ish?”

My first reaction on hearing such delightful news was to order two pieces. What stopped me was the recollection of the five Rococo chocolates I’d stuffed 10 minutes earlier: I’d barely had time to wipe the evidence from my lips.

Gluten-less glee

I didn’t know  when I ordered but there isn’t a speck of flour in it. Nothing other than sugar; cocoa butter, cocoa mass, egg, butter and a splosh of vanilla: life’s looking up for coeliacs I’d say.

(Gluten-tolerant types, don’t  mistake it for the small chocolate doo-dar in a paper ruff that’s labelled gluten-free.)

Now then.

Reecher than reech without being the slightest bit sickly.

Chocolate ganache is perfectly pitched, both for cocoa content and firm yet melt-in-your-mouth character.

Super-light base that’s moist, stodge-free and magnificent. (HOW do they do it?*)

My gratitude for this knows no bounds.

Verdict: Share? Don’t be ridiculous!

No flat white. No problem.

Before the proliferation of coffee shop chains, and the rise and rise of antipodean caffeine-related supremacy, there was Pâtisserie Deux Amis.

Deux friends, quel coincidence!

You won’t get a flat white or a long black here, at least not by name, but you will find an effortless local vibe, charming service and a refreshing lack of self-conciousness. Ample compensation don’t you reckon?

Deux Amis can be found at 63 Judd Street. It’s small inside but the tables maintain a sense of privacy and things don’t feel cramped. That’s probably because of  the little courtyard out back: even though it’s closed to customers it gives the impression of more space.

Pale old wooden panelling, some fancy masonary and nothing artsy or edgey: this place hasn’t changed its style in years. It doesn’t need to. It’s non-corporate,  it isn’t built on the whim of a marketer and it doesn’t worry about the latest fashion in milk froth. Quiet composure and wondrous wares are the order of the day here.

Speaking of orders, here’s mine.

Hazlenut praline meringue slice

Glorious chocolate ganache.

Creamy, nutty praline that has a silky-soft texture.

Crisp and chewy meringue.

Largeness of portion. Joyfully light.

Verdict: I could have eaten deux.

Nude muffin alert

Nude Espresso says it’s London’s leading micro roastery. That’s bare-faced confidence for you, but contrary to  the name, Nude isn’t all mouth and no trousers: it was Café  Society’s  Independent Café Of The Year 2010 and both branches appear to be flourishing.

My radar has led me round the back of the old Truman Brewery building on Brick Lane. Here, in what was the cooperage yard, is the Nude Espresso roastery and micro café – the third premises in their repetoire.

This is a working roastery and I liked the lack of interior design and other frippery. There’s one large table, a few stools, sacks and sacks of beans and a pile of industry magazines. Pity about the annoying 60s pop music in the background though, I’d have preferred to hear the sounds of the place itself, not some hackneyed old tunes.

By the way, I’ve never met such an unemphatic and listless barista as the one here. I feared for the integrity of my long black, but surprisingly she rustled up a good one.

Raspberry and white chocolate muffin

Correct muffin texture – coarser and more robust than cake. (A sort of hybrid bread and scone I s’ppose.)

Agreeably moist.

The sharpness of the razzas is successfully balanced by sweet and creamy white chocolate.

Verdict: Nuffin wrong with it, apart from being too small.

Don’t make mine a cupcake

If you’ve come here wanting cosy chit chat about cupcakes you’re in the wrong place.

Why not put your girly paper cases away and better still, recycle your baking trays? They’d be much more useful as aluminium cans next time around.

As you can tell, my fragile tolerance for cupcakes has disappeared. I think I’ve eaten two this year but I’ve probably seen five thousand and two. In my very biased opinion they’re overpriced, overdecorated and definitely overrated.

I’m mystified as to why so many people are still jumping on the bandwagon. What’s so special about the combination of an insipid, texture-free sponge base and a quiff or a cowpat of frosting?

The frosting is a test of loyalty for even the most ardent sugar lovers. It becomes more challenging when it’s loaded with sweets, sprinkles and various chocolate doo-dars.

There are numerous cupcake specialists in town, with more establishments offering their version of the genre – chains and independents alike.

And, as if miniature and regular sizes weren’t enough, we’re also bombarded with giant ones too. Well, they may be big but they’re not clever.

It’s time we had a cupcake cull

Death to cupcakes

Photograph kindly provided by Carole; photographer, art director and originator of the blog We Like Food

Kaffeine is a hit

I first went to Kaffeine late summer 2009 when the place was more or less just out of its cellophane. The owner, Peter Dore-Smith, is a tall and intense strip of antipodean energy who was obviously on a mission. His hands never rested. His eyes darted everywhere; checking, double checking. His heart and soul were definitely being poured into every cup of coffee too.

My cake radar has been nagging me for ages to return. I’ve no idea why it’s taken so long, but  I’ve finally been back.

I pitched up full of hunger and high expectations because the place has won much praise for its contribution to coffee/café culture.

There’s a fine array of wares to choose from and they all look to be in pristine condition. Not surprising when I learn that the chef makes them on the premises: less miles, more mmmms.

In no time at all a hot chocolate, an americano, a large piece of banana bread, a mango friand, a white chocolate blondie, 2 glasses of water, an accomplice and I were sitting very happily together.

Banana bread

Smooth, lightly toasted and pale auburn on the outside. Soft and bursting with bananas inside.

Unlike many other examples, it’s true to its name and is much more bread than cake.

Combination of sustaining fresh breadiness and deconstructed, naturally sweet fruit.

They’re dead right to serve it with a big pat of  butter.

Verdict: It looks plain but  it’s really a thing of considerable beauty. Good fuel for breakfast, lunch and tea.

NB: Credit must go to the day’s accomplice for choosing it despite my initial disapproval. (I promise to eat humble cake.)

Just as our audible sounds of satisfaction tailed off, the gracious, ever-vigilant Dore-Smith noticed that my cup was already empty. He invited me to try a long black, explaining that it’s similar to an americano but made with less water, which is added to the cup first, followed by espresso. The long and the short of it is a stronger flavour and it keeps its crema. Sounds like just the thing to go with this here blondie.

A blondie moment

Elegant, thin layer of crust on top.

Impeccably light but firm texture with chewy undertones.

A rich white chocolate and vanilla flavour without being sickly. This is due to careful melting and blending of the white chocolate so there are no chunks, thereby avoiding sudden and clumsy assaults of too much sweetness.

Pale and interesting

Verdict: A blondie may or may not be more fun than a brownie – see what you think.

NB:  R.I.P. americano, long live the long black.

It’s impossible not to feel chirpy here. The staff possess a rare blend of affability, courtesy, consummate professionalism and enthusiasm. You can sense it rippling out to everyone and see their customers respond accordingly: heart-warming it is. Even two fat little cinnamon daschunds waiting outside for their master were doing their best to bask in the love.

My new best friand

Oooh, pretty.

Sensible amounts of frosting, juicy chunk of non-fibrous mango on top.

Light and dewy texture, NO sogginess. It holds together beautifully on the plate  but then reveals melting qualities in the mouth.

Instead of masking the almond flavour they celebrate it  and create a delectable harmony with the fresh fruit.

No extra fat is involved other than the natural oils from the ground almonds and the chef uses mango and mango tea for flavour.

Verdict: Lip-smackingly good, I defy you not to enjoy it. Ooh, it’s  even gluten-friandly too.

26 for coffee and friands

It’s just over a year since Tapped & Packed, aka 26,  started serving  cups, siphons and aeropresses of  sophisticated joe.

The owner certainly likes his numbers. At 26 they have no less than 5 different coffee suppliers, 4 brewing methods for filter coffee, 5 sorts of brewing coffee, 9 types of espresso coffees, 14 teas, 2  tea suppliers,  and 2 cake suppliers. Mindful of our 5-a-day, they even have 1 provider of fruit and veg.

So what does all this add up to? Judging by the constant flow of happy customers and the intense concentration of their baristas, I’d say it was more than a hill of beans in a capital that’s starting to brim with coffee connoisseurship.

I like the wave of antipodean coffee culture that’s been breaking over here for some time. I just hope that  similarity doesn’t breed contempt: it would be a cruel irony if the pesky coffee shop chains were replaced by another strain of homogeneity.

Anyway, let’s cut to the cake shall we?

There was ample variety but it was way too exposed for my liking and some of it looked the worse for air.  Why is naked cake rife in places like this? There seems to be a misguided belief that uncovered comestibles are somehow more enticing, rustic and appetising.

Nooooo!  Not in the days of umpteen viruses, millions more people and dehydrating air-conditioning. Cake needs covering.

I went for a raspberry friand because it looked perkier than the other stuff. The afternoon’s accomplice chose a slab of chocolate-orange marble cake and then said he didn’t really like chocolate orange at all. Erm, how does that work then? Perhaps he mislaid his marbles when he ordered.

Raspberry friand

Friands are the antipodean, more fancy version of french financiers and tend to be oval rather than oblong or ingot shaped. Financiers are plain and usually made with ground almonds, egg whites, icing sugar, butter and very little flour. Their cousins Down Under  include fruit, toppings and other flavours.

Light and moist texture but not very chewy or oval shaped. I didn’t mind though, what’s a little variation among friands?

Good sharpness to the raspberries.

Verdict: A modest and very pleasing companion at tea or coffee time.

Orange and chocolate marble cake

Hmmm, crumbly but not dry.

One bite is chocolate, the next nibble is orange. Accomplice and I both preferred the chocolate bits.

Delightfully old-fashioned butter-cream.

Verdict: Knockout with a punchy black americano.

N.B. They also serve one of the best hot chocolates in central London

St Ali, a new place for your daily coffee worship

O come all ye faithful

Fresh, fair and beautifully fanatical

St Ali has risen from the ashes of what used to be Dust, 27 Clerkenwell Road. It’s now a restuarant that’s so  dedicated to the almighty bean that it sources direct from coffee farmers and does the roasting in its very own sky-lit, onsite roastery.  Small batches rule and anything over 10 days old is a has-been.

I was there after a cake crawl that included 2 hot chocolates, 4 strong black coffees and enough cake to make most people go for a cholesterol check. Understandably I could only manage a decaffeinated flat white. Forgive me, I think St Ali does.

Here are my first impressions, there’ll be a fuller report soon.

The day I was busy leaving a trail of crumbs behind me happened to be the first rainy one in months. Sod’s law, and I was  sodden. Thankfully it  didn’t deter my host at St Ali’s;  friendly, enthusiastic and she assured me that “I’d love to make you a decaf flattie”.

I sat with the steam rising off me and watched the place at work. It was late lunchtime and busy on both floors, with a lot of delectable looking savouries being carried hither and thither.

The aforementioned roastery was quiet but I’m sure I could see the living wall growing and getting more lushly green by the minute. It’s an impressive transformation from the days of Dust – unrecognisable almost. Good on ’em.

The flattie contained the best decaf coffee I’ve ever tasted. That stuff is normally a woeful kick  in the tastebuds without the essential kick-start. This was smooth, unburnt and full of body. It made me purr.

Next time I’ll be eating as well as sipping.

Verdict: I can hardly wait.

Bea’s teas are almost the bees’ knees

Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a few doors down and poles apart from a Cafe Nero on Theobald’s Road, WC1.

Until last October there was only one in the world, but the opening of a second Bea’s in St Paul’s, makes two. Does that make it a chain already? Or maybe just a pair? Tea for two and blah de blah…

The slightly dingy Bloomsbury branch was nearly full when I arrived, but there was one table up the steps at the back, right next to the sky-lit kitchen. I made a beeline for it and was embraced by warmth and delightful whiffs from the oven.

What’s their excuse for not having more tables you might wonder? It’s a pretty good one: Mistress Bea insists that the kitchen is on site. It takes up floor space, but ensures the wares are uber-fresh and don’t have to travel.

                                           Hmmm, cupcakes (yawn)

                                                 and all this (yum)

                                            Mini raspberry meringue

Petite and pretty with a pout-like splodgeof raspberry puree   on top.

Mmm, puree turns out to be agreeably piquant.

Crisp and light on the outside.

Melts quickly on the tongue to reveal a lovely chewy centre.

Verdict: Miniscule but marvellous.

Gluten-free orange cake

After a recent and rather euphoric gluten-free experience at the London Review of Books I had high hopes.

Even I was intimidated by the dimensions and couldn’t help saying, “I’m not expecting anyone to join me.”

Deep breath in… and out….. best fork forward.

Authentically orangey.

Wet.

Heavy.

I only managed half of it and was grateful for the take-away box.

At the London Book Review Cafe they blend polenta and ground almonds with great success. Here, the 100% almond meal base wasn’t outrageously offensive, it just didn’t work well enough.

Verdict: Steer clear unless gluten gives you grief.

Carluccio’s carrot cake is an eye opener

Vitamins A and C in carrots are proven to help  keep your peepers perky. In fact, vit A can even help you to see in the dark.

Carluccio’s carrot cake is less about night vision and more about showing us the light: it’s a splendid demonstration of why the unlikely fusion of sugar and a root vegetable has become so popular.

Here’s why so many others fall short of its high standards.

First up, the Carluccio Caffè crew know that stinginess is as unattractive as it is provocative.  They’re generous with their portion sizes.

Good topping ratios; not too thin, not too thick. Cream cheesiness is sweetly balanced and luscious.

Moist body without stodginess. The texture is bold and avoids roughness: grated carrot  in sufficient evidence without making you feel like a wabbit.

A sprinkle of flavoursome walnuts on top and …….TA-DAAA……. Deliciousness.

Verdict: Go on, it’ll make your eyes sparkle.

Two out of three ain’t bad

For the love of cake and the sake of my well-being I’ve been back to the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. It was around 4 o’clock and there was a mellow, peaceful feeling in the air – a winding down of a day spent in the noble art of  refreshment provision.

I nestled in and decided that this time my duties lay with the lemon cake

It’s big and it looks good.

Whaaaat? It’s not very lemony and manages the dubious achievement of being dry but greasy at the same time.

The chunky sugary topping doesn’t grab me either.

I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm to one of the owners and he looked genuinely interested and surprised. Unfortunately he couldn’t try it for himself, because despite my aversion, I’d finished the last piece.

It was humbling to note that he didn’t raise his eyebrows a millimetre or look the tiniest bit superior when he removed the empty plate.

Verdict: Diplomacy and service par excellence. Lemon cake below par (on this occasion).

After that, a trusty accomplice pitched up and ordered a piece of plum cake. What could I do but eat some of it?

I’m happy to report that it was as good as the first time.

Verdict: Yum plum.

Then, the other owner insisted that we try the chocolate cheesecake brownie. On the house.

That meant two things; when it comes to service and satisfaction, they really do put their money where their customers’ mouths are. Second, they recognised me for the greedy pig that I am. Thank goodness.

Chocolate cheesecake brownie

I’ve not dabbled in this before. It’s a sort of cheesecake ripple brownie: the white chunks are not white chocolate but cream cheese.

Delicate, thin and crispy crust. I felt, rather than heard it ‘plink’ as it gave way.

Rich, dense body with compact, even texture. No clagging.

The cream cheese brings a mild sharpness that balances.

Verdict: A ripple of applause for this one.

N.B. The coffee here is top notch and I’ve managed to stop wincing when I consider the dinky dimensions of the cups in comparison to the price. However, the chocolate has a way to go before it’s worth recommending. I’ve been invited to take part in a session to improve it and will report my findings.

Old Macdonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-NO

Workers in Farringdon flock here to pay bracing prices for lunches and sweet treats.

According to Farm’s marketing it sells “HONEST BRITISH FOOD” without “nasties”. Not having  eaten any of their savouries I remain in blissful ignorance of their standard. I wish I could say the same for their cakes.

The aforementioned are baked on the premises; I chose chocolate and the boldest scone I’ve ever seen.

One has to wonder what was happening in the kitchen when this batch was baked.

Did someone jog the creator’s arm and he poured in too much flour?

Had he left his spectacles at home so he couldn’t see how little fat he was weighing out? (I say fat because my stricken tastebuds couldn’t determine if it was butter.)

Did he have a bout of cramp in his fingers that rendered him incapable of sufficiently rubbing fat into flour?

Was he so enthralled by the sound of the electric blender that he couldn’t turn it off before the cream curdled?

Was there a shortage of jam in his store cupboard? Only the merest scraping was in evidence.

It's all scone wrong

Verdict: Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Chocolate cake with hazlenut ganache

After the previous ordeal I thought it sensible to plough on. At best it would be delicious, at worst it would take away the taste of the scone. Motivation indeed.

Dark, and from a distance, quite handsome.

On closer inspection the stodgy texture is exposed.

The chocolate and hazlenut lack integrity: the flavours smack of those spreads that seem to breed in the kitchen cupboards of our mediterranean neighbours. Nutella I think.

Verdict: I’m going to change into a pair of elasticated-waist trousers and have a quiet lie down until this sick feeling subsides.

Coffee drinkers and lovers

14-16 Leather Lane ECN1

Leather Lane is a scruffy, bustling market street in Clerkenwell. It has grubby appeal and a rare immunity to the chain bug that strikes so many other areas: only one Pret and that’s on the outer fringes.

Instead there are a couple of new caffiene pushers in town, one of which is the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. Nice name, what about the place?

It’s an ex-architectural ironmongers and looks slightly bleak from the outside, but the open door, big windows and the queue of punters at the counter were all good signs. I joined them.

The vibe is local, expert and buzzy in a relaxed sort of way. It’s stripped, relatively spacious, there’s free wi-fi and I think the music’s probably very cool, but as my ears are more used to Radio 4, I can’t say for certain.

A serious barista tells me that there’s a minimum charge for card payments. Bless her, I’ll just have to buy extra cake.

There’s a choice of 6 or 7 and the baker is someone called Juliette who makes them all at home a few miles down the road.

It’s also worth noting that the Department isn’t following the ubiquitous cupcake crowd, because there isn’t a cream cheese quiff in sight.

There’s something else that set this place apart: joy.  It’s obvious that the owners derive genuine pleasure from what they’re doing and that they’re grateful to be doing it. Watch this and you’ll get more of an idea – and look out for the lovely moment after the end-credit – it’ll make sense of the title of this post.

Plum cake

My expectations are high; the texture looks darn near perfect and plums usually get on famously with fat and flour.

Light. Crumbly. Moist. As are my eyes because there’s nothing fancy, fashionable or frosted about this cake. It’s simple, honest and has obviously been baked with love and attention.

Verdict: You must. Soon.

Gobsmacked by gluten-free

As a self-confessed cakehead, I’m always on the scout for new highs.

Amazingly, my habit now includes a cake of the gluten-free variety. Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. I’ve always viewed gluten-free goods with a mixture of disdain, sympathy for the coeliacs who have to eat them and relief that I can tolerate an indecent amount of cake gluten, any time of day.

The establishment responsible for opening my eyes and mouth is The London Review Cake Shop – you get to it via the London Review Bookshop next door at 14 Bury Place.

If you like hectic atmospheres, incessant loud voices, mobile ringtones and an all-pervasive modern vulgarity, don’t go here. You just won’t get it.

If you like calmness, the hum of conversation and  a cheery “Good morning” when you first arrive, you’ll feel right at home.

While the manager was making my coffee, two customers kept firing questions about the teas and cakes. This dedicated barista was having none of it: with easy antipodean charm she said that she must give the task in hand her full attention. “It’s only right” was her irrefutable explanation.

My esteem for the place went up a few more notches. Such dedication to their coffee craft could only mean good things for their cakes.

Gluten-free rose and pistachio cake

The above selection lay untouched for 10 or so minutes until the day’s accomplice arrived. Where I found the willpower I don’t know, but it may have had something to do with the perfection of the flat white on which I was sipping.

Now, let’s see.

The irritating shadow on the photo doesn’t really do the texture justice, but ground almonds and polenta instead of flour are a complete success.

Delicate rose flavour frosting that makes me feel all Regency and genteel. (No mean feat I assure you.)

Crunchy pistachios of good flavour.

Having tasted his choice and then mine, the accomplice has definite cake envy.

Ms manager says that it’s even better with their jasmine tea. I’ll have that next time.

Verdict: Lucky, lucky coeliacs.

 

 

 

 

Lemon cake made with olive oil

Popeye would have loved it

 

My anxieties were proved right.

Unctuous texture.

Greasy and insipid lemon flavour.

The creme fraiche on the side cuts through the oily nature of the cake but can’t redeem it.

Verdict: Admirably healthy I suppose, but it was lost on me.

The joy of Buckhurst Hill, Essex

I’ve been informed that Buckhurst Hill is a top place for getting a vajazzle. That’s the technical term for having your vagina decorated with crystals, post-waxing. The male version is called a pejazzle: presumably it’s worn dipped, or in moments of excitement, full beam.

I wasn’t there for the body art. I was simply following a signal on my cake radar after catching up with a friend in South Woodford. (She who eats chocolate but won’t touch chocolate cake.)

So, feeling courageously unkempt, I hit Queen’s Road and passed 8 or 9 hair and beauty salons in under a mile, and a flashy grooming parlour for pets.

Moving quickly on I came across Pat-a-Cake. No tables or chairs and not much left in the way of wares either. Cupcakes. Again. Red velvet. Again.

An Italian deli called MamaLina looked more promising. Wading through a children’s party to reach the counter, I spotted a beautiful example of torta paradiso.

While the owner served me I learnt that she and the deli are named after her Aunt Adelina. And, although Adelina senior didn’t have any bambinos of her own, the children in their Italian village called her Mama Lina because she baked and cooked so much.

Paradise cake

 

You know when you stroke a hamster or a kitten and they’re so soft that you’re not sure if you’re touching them? Well, this piece of paradise is a bit like that: so fine and airy that it may not be there.

It’s the  omission of any sort of fat and the use of  egg whites that does it, the trick is to avoid dryness. No trouble with that here.

Light as air

 

It quietly murmers vanilla.

Fresh cream in the middle.

Verdict: Only one thing for it, buy another piece.

Tea and cake in a cowshed

For the chainophobic

In a world where homogeneity rules the high street, it’s always a relief to come across a blip in the uniformity. So, when someone tipped me off a few years ago about a secret cafe in the wood, I didn’t waste any time in going there.

Pity I didn’t take 10 minutes to look at a map properly, or actually read the signs in front of me. Then I might not have driven past it twice and ended up hungry and confused.

Having learned to listen to my inner cake radar,  I’ve been nipping back and forth ever since with the greatest of ease.

This quiet and unassuming shed at Potten End used to be home to a herd of cows.  Now it milks its location as an appealing cafe and plant nursery. Go here and you won’t be following the herd, except that you will –  if you get my meaning.

The cafe is called Sanuk which, t’internet says, is a Thai word for hanging out with friends and usually involves food.

I’m pleased to say that there wasn’t a grain of rice or drop of green curry in sight: the menu was mainly a list of cakes, interrupted only by homemade soup, cheese scones and hot beverages. Grand.

Mind your head when you go through the front door. In winter, mind the King Charles spaniel that’s  curled up in front of the heater.

 

 

Pass through the  shop that’s full of Indian/Tibetan bits and pieces (why not Thai?), go up the step and into the tea room.

 

Thankfully the cloud of incense in the shop doesn’t intrude here. By the way, why is that stuff  sold in different fragrances? Once you’ve smelt one incense stick you’ve smelt them all.

 

 

 

 

Anyway. It’s all soft lighting and rosy-cosy in here. No tea cosies but lots of bone china and a table laden with cakes.

A notice tells me not to lift the lids. Good,  I applaud their hygiene habits.

They all look very inviting, but it’s good old farmhouse fruit cake that wins the day.

 

 

 

 

The piece was so big that I inhaled sharply and promptly choked on my tea. Will it teach me for being a greedy pig? Absolutely not.

Look at the width on that

Lovely golden brown top that subtly resists my knife, giving way to a soft body.

Good crumbly texture, not too dry, not too moist.

Plenty of currants and sultanas.

Verdict: It’s your loss if you don’t.

 

 

 

Orange layer cake

Sometimes you know when something’s going to be good don’t you? The quality of something doesn’t just catch your eye, it whispers to your heart as well.

In this instance I was wooed by  orange layer cake.

Mouths were made for it

A good even height.

As light and feathery as one of the birds  I can hear outside.

Superb balance of moistness and crumbliness.

Lovely orange flavour. I could eat that butter cream by the spoonful.

Verdict: I’ll fight anyone for the last piece.

Apricot and mascarpone sponge

I'm glad I didn't choose it

The day’s cake accomplice chose this. Naturally I tried it.

Indifferent texture and bland sweetness.

Claggy mascarpone and insipid apricot jam.

Verdict: It made me frown and curl my lip in utter contempt.

Catch this Sicilian tube

Tiers of joy

The barista in Cocorino explained that cannoli is a tube-shaped Sicilian pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate cream or a sort of vanilla custard.

In the town where she’s from, they’re as big as a ten year-old child’s wrist. In Cocorino’s they’re much smaller: in my mind a green light to eat two or three in one sitting.

I went for the lemon version and it went all the way home with me.

Miraculously it lay untouched in a tin for more than 12 hours. Now its moment has come.

 

 

Uncut it looks a bit like a miniature croissant. That’s as far as the resemblance goes.

Crisp flaky pastry that capitulates with a satisfying crunch.

Firm ricotta, an appealing pale lemon in colour. Nothing pallid about the flavour: plenty of zing that zaps any notion that the shell could be oversweet.

Verdict: It would be folly to deny yourselves the pleasure.

Top banana

This is a welcoming and appetising cafe on Thayer Street. According to the delightful Sicilian barista who served me, Coco is the name of the owner’s daughter; rino turns it into an endearment/pet name. Aaah.

Cocorino knows what it’s about and it goes about its business with aplomb: feeding people  well and deriving genuine pleasure from their enjoyment.

Behind the counter are many bowls of fresh, savoury delicacies. On top of the counter is a wooden board about two foot long. At either end of that, there are two or three pieces of beautifully dusky-looking banana cake.

Two thoughts popped into my mind; that must have been one very long banana cake and, with so little left, people obviously know what’s good for them round here.

I hovered, just enjoying the serenity and self-possessed atmosphere of the place. Then, before I could say the words, “Could I have a piece of banana cake please?”, someone else  arrived and said them instead.

Another piece gone.

Hastily I ordered, plus a lemon ricotta cannoli to take away. (I even bought a box of savoury things for later too, but don’t worry, I know where my priorities lie.)

An unusually deep and very  appealing colour.

Full banana flavour that can only have come from the generous use of ripe fruit.

Moist, light texture.

A lot of banana cake ends up too sweet. Not this one. Not a single grain of cane over the perfect amount.

The chef very modestly said that “it was easy to make”. It is, but it’s easy to make badly too: his is a lesson on how it should be done.

Verdict: It’s a life enhancer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

N.B. The hot chocolate is good and rich too. Not as marvellous as the Wet Fish Cafe, but mighty more-ish all the same.

Wannabe cake seller

Patrick Cox is better known for his leather goods than his baked ones. Back in the eighties he was designing shoes for the likes of Vivienne Westwood and John-don’t-mention-the-ghettos-Galliano.

In the nineties Cox launched his own label and was quick to hit the fashion big-time with his Wannabe collection. The iconic loafers proved to be so desirable that bouncers were employed to manage the queues outside his store.

Far from being consigned to private wardrobe history, examples of Wannabe are on public display in the Victoria & Albert Museum London and other museums worldwide.

In 2010, Patrick Cox  hot-footed it in the direction of his other lifelong passion: cakes.  Teaming up with acclaimed patissier Eric Lanlard, he  turned a neon-lit sex shop on Brewer Street into the neon-lit Cox, Cookies & Cakes.

Not surprisingly, the exterior is a lot more louche than more conventional cupcake sellers.

Red (blue, pink and yellow) light district

Messrs Cox and Lanlard are certainly working their assets off to appeal to an edgier slice of the market.  Also evident from the fact that they’re open until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

After such a come-hither exterior the interior is a bit of a letdown; dark slighly spangly decor, some high stools and not much else, other than a  selection of  very lurid cupcakes.

Ooh-la-la, Monsieur Lanlard  has had some fun camping it up in  the kitchen; they’re brash, colourful and extremely titivated.

 

 

I was attracted by their  exuberance and liked the departure from pastel-prettiness .

 

 

 

Coxxx and Specialities are £4 a pop. Four quid? For a cupcake?

 

 

 

 

I went for one of their more modestly priced Cherry Classics.

Life is just a bowl of cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vanilla icing makes a pleasant change from cream cheese frosting. Lovely melting quality and it’s  not sickly either.

Mmmm.

Cheeky cherries.

I thought that it was rich in butter and a quick check with their ever-so-helpful PR company confimed my hopes.

Walks all over Hummingbird. Moreover, Patrick Cox’s creativity is not without a conscience: keep an eye on his shop window (or watch this space) for new cupcakes aimed at raising funds for people and animals less fortunate than ourselves.

Verdict: I wannabe eating more of them.

Incidentally the hot chocolate is very fine too.

All in a day’s work


Marie-Clare’s chocolate peanut butter bomb

Following an alert on my cake radar, I walked into the kitchen at the place where I was freelancing last week. Marie-Clare was there, along with a knife, capacious plate and you know what.

Specifically, a chocolate cake filled with peanut butter, covered in chocolate ganache and adorned with shards of white chocolate.

Using FHB etiquette (freelancers hold back) I managed to restrain myself until everyone else had had their piece of the action.

Perks at work

I could see and sense that this was not rich in butter. And, in answer to my question, Marie-Clare confirmed that when circumstances demand, she is a firm proponent of vegetable oil.

Many people are. I happen to love butter and believe that most cakes suffer for a lack of it. As do the triceps: beating aforementioned fat and caster sugar together requires surprising strength and energy .

 

Anyway, what of this dark mountain?

Sadly it was disappointing. Good ganache, and pleasing peanut and chocolate combo, but the main body was dry.

I take my apron off to Marie-Clare however, because she was quick to point out its faults and expressed annoyance at the result. Looking at the other goodies on her menu, I don’t think that this was a fair representation of her talent.

Verdict: A fourteen-hour day slaving in the office is not a recipe for complete success in the kitchen.

It fits the bill

Bill’s started out in Brighton and Lewes. Heady successes there led to the opening of new premises in St Martin’s Courtyard towards the end of 2010.

Well-known food critics say that Bill’s savouries are definitely worth their salt. A fact that’s wasted on me I’m afraid: my focus remains in cakesville.

So, putting research duties ahead of my natural urges I went for carrot cake.

The day’s accomplice was torn between baked vanilla cheesecake with lemon curd and a chocolate brownie.

After the waitress had explained at least twice that, ‘no, the lemon curd couldn’t come separately because it was already inside the cheesecake’,  guess which he went for?

The cheesecake.

Putting tact ahead of my natural urges, I managed to say nothing and filled the time by gawping at what other punters were eating: precious little cake.

All carrot, no stick

Mystifying mint foliage aside, this was moist and sticky, not wet.

Coarse-ish texture, which is how a carrot cake should be.

Walnuts sang proud, but not too loud.

Almost over-sweet frosting, but the creamy-cheesiness rescues it and it works well with the less sugary body of  the cake.

Verdict: I like. Still don’t know what the mint was about though.

 

 

 

 

 

The cheesecake was delayed so appetites and expectations were all the keener.

Don't say cheesecake

 

More mint??

Now then, what’s with the pumpkin seeds on the base?

More to the point, what’s with the base? Is it soggy biscuit? Is it sponge? Maybe it’s because it’s baked? So many questions, so little satisfaction.

Lamentable rather than lemony.

The vanilla cream cheese turned out to be the saving grace. Bill should concentrate on that and ditch the seeds and lemon curd.

Verdict: Try a brownie instead.

Confessions of a cake addict

Here goes.

My username is All-butter and I’m a cakeaholic.

There’s more.

I haven’t baked a cake of my own for ages.

Before you tut and start to feel smug about your exploits with the self-raising flour, let me explain.

My oven has a form of  unripe pear syndrome – Eddie Izzard will explain.

Similarly, what goes on with my oven is this:

“It’s not done yet. It’s still not done. You won’t need the gloves for ages ….stodgy, not done, not done… OOOPS I’ve burnt it.”

So much for all my careful sieving, spooning, beating, folding and dolloping.

I’ve tried lower temperatures for longer and higher ones for less time.  I’ve even skipped the preheating stage and faffed around with baking parchment lids. It makes no difference.

Sometimes I’ve had to scrape a cake to within a centimetre of its life and cover what’s left with an unwholesome amount of frosting. If people noticed anything, they were too polite to say.

As the cooker only seems to burn cakes and scones I can’t bring myself to dump it: at 23 years old it’s probably an oven aged pensioner.

No, I’ll keep it until it’s totally kaput. Meanwhile I’ll have to rely on the industry and skill of others.

Tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Ho-humming bird bakery

This place has been causing quite a stir in some mixing bowls. High time I popped in to see what all the fuss was about.

The Pop-Art interior of the Wardour Street branch has zero charm and atmosphere, but I persevered towards the counter.

Whoa, a selection of very garish cakes, whoopie pies and lots of cupcakes – they must be expecting a rush.

I plumped for the slightly burlesque Red Velvet. I was told that it’s their best seller and that it’s a red, vanilla sponge with a light cocoa aftertaste. Interesting.

The seats are so positioned that customers have to face an unattractive plastic wall. I’d rather be watching who’s buying what. (I’d also be able to put a face to the annoying voice that’s making every statement sound like it’s a question. Oh, it’s the manager. I mean, oh, it’s the manager??)

Storm in a cupcake

Burlesque name, small cup size. If my suspicions prove right, that’ll be a blessing.

The texture is non-existent; no crumbs to speak of and a very bound-together, mass-manufactured appearance.

Lightweight in body. Slightly chewy. No cocoa aftertaste and a disappointingly flaccid vanilla flavour.

The frosting is a letdown.

I can’t fault the ingredients: the website lists them in all their innocence and lack of trans-fats, but I can’t warm to this cupcake. It’s too Barbie for my tastes; perky, pneumatic and contrived.

Verdict: Overhyped, overpriced and over here.

Will I go back? To one of their other branches. Maybe.

Stick it

Walking into The Pavilion Cafe in Highgate woods I was struck by two things; the toasty temperature of the place and a sinking feeling that I would pay over-the-odds for whatever I chose. Ah well, they’ve got to finance their heating bills somehow.
I also noticed a disquieting similarity between the appearance of the carrot cake and the coffee and walnut. What’s this? One recipe fits all?

Sweet. Damp.

Boring. Sweet.

Sweet. Stodgy.

Walnuts AWOL.

Verdict: Must have a nap, the insulin’s in overdrive.

Sharing the love

Friends have been round. Bearing cake. They’re welcome any time, obviously

Thanks to Hannah P, a very large, now somewhat depleted chocolate cake is in my possession. Even I can’t dismiss something this size in two sittings, so it’s safe for another 12 hours.

While everyone settled, I put the kettle to work and readied the tea cosy for action.

Wow, my piece is bigger than the whole cake!

Dark cocoa in colour with a handsome texture.

Moist without a murmer of stodginess.

Impressively light and airy.

The filling gave me some trepidation but it turned out to be a rich, yet beautifully balanced chocolate buttercream.

Verdict: This 12 year old shows wisdom with a wooden spoon. I’ll have a second helping.

NB: Young Evie doesn’t make cakes yet, but she cleans out the bowls for her big sister. It’s a good start Evie P and just what I used to do for my mother.

Stick first, carrot cake second

These are days of plenty for carrot cake lovers. It’s everywhere; independent cafes, chains, the take-away lunch sections of  supermarkets…. it seems that wherever I go, I can hardly move for the stuff.

Or is it just that I can hardly move because of my cake habit?

One weighty issue at a time I think.

So, with the public’s best interests at heart, I’m back in the Courtyard Cafe.

What's up doc?

Small-ish. Moist-ish. Bland-ish.

Baking soda too prevalent and cream cheese frosting too scarce.

The up side is that every cake in this establishment is handmade on the premises, so the occasional fallibility is expected, forgiveable and in some strange way, appreciated.

Verdict: Disappointing-ish.

Ciao bella

CARLUCCIO’S

Chocolate brownie

In the world of Girlguiding UK, Brownies are the 7-10 year olds that flit about doing stuff to earn badges. In the world of eatcakemakecrumbs, brownies are delicacies made mainly from sugar, chocolate, butter, more sugar and sometimes, nuts.

This next example of the genre can only be described as bountiful. The photograph doesn’t do it justice because it shows the brownie in the final moments of its existence. What was a generous slab has been enthusiastically reduced to a couple of mouthfuls. My apologies.

Somebody stop me

You’ll find them in branches of Carluccio’s if you’re lucky, because they fly off the plate like, erm, hot brownies.

Firstly, this looks good. Appearances aren’t everything, but in badge currency the presentation score would be high. It’s encrusted with lots of whole hazelnuts which contrast well with its dark angularity.

At first bite it proves to be all substance as well as sass; crunchy, thick, chewy and chocca with chocolate.

There follows an episode of bliss for the taste buds and numerous sighs of happiness.

Verdict: Get in, you won’t look back.

Give us this day our daily cake

LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN

Marie Antoinette wouldn’t have approved of the name. Daily bread? Non merci, let them eat cake.

That aside, and excusing the fact that this is part of yet another high street chain, the cakeage here is good.

Mocha tart

Pick one up today

Mo mocha no mo problems

Dark, sleek and plain except for three coffee beans.

Espresso-coloured ganache of appreciable depth and seductive, soft texture.

Impeccable mocha flavour that is rich and beautifully balanced.

More caffeine caress than kick. Crisp and pristine pastry base.

Even my greed has to capitulate to the generous dimensions: this is a tart for a twosome.

Verdict: Not cheap but it will make you very cheerful.

Bakewell tart

Not a patch on Peyton’s. Sadly it lacked a satisfactory amount of jam and what was there seemed ordinary.

No evidence of sliced almonds on top.

Not offensive but more of a generic sweet thing without definable character or joy.

Verdict: I won’t be having that again.

Chocolate chip cookie

Lookie at the cookie

Chunks of chocolate so thick that the teeth sink in and in and in. Milk and white. (The chocolate that is, my milk teeth are long gone and there are very few white ones left.)

Dense yet chewy base that is oh-oh-oh-so-cocoa.

Not sickly at all.

Verdict:  Don’t hold back. And keep going back for more.

Cake pilgrim goes to St Albans

OOooOoh. Whassthat? That little place set back from the road? There are tables…..chairs…. Yep, my cake radar has delivered me into temptation again:

The Court Yard Cafe, Hatfield Road, St Albans

This is a good nook. There’s a smidgen of self-consciousness to its vintage feel, but the cosy charm of the place wins out. It’s stuffed to the gills with homemade food and cakes, served by a cheery team who enjoy talking to their customers: twinkly eye contact included. Marvellous.

 

 

I ignored the overpriced bric-a-brac that’s dotted around and made myself comfortable with some marmalade cake. (Cake prices are very reasonable by the way.)

Mmmake it mine

 

 

 

 

I was momentarily dismayed by its slenderness, then soothed by the quality. This is really my out and out favourite type of cake. It’s not a bit modern and needs to be nothing more than it already is.

Plain, understated and utterly perfect in texture;

Moist, light, crumbly and firm all at the same time.

Citrus that delivers a lively sharpness tempered by the mellow sweetness of the main body.

Verdict: I am rendered quiet and peaceful by deep satisfaction.

A goldie of a brownie

Straightforward and polite. I knew we'd get on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For most of the 20th century, 242 West End Lane never knew the hamster softness of finely milled flour. Nor the gentle grittiness of caster sugar when it’s beaten together with butter. It was a thriving fishmongers and unconcerned with cakery.

Then, round about 2004, the new owners uncovered some art deco wall tiles and were inspired to transform the premises into The Wet Fish Cafe.

My cake radar has led me there and this is my first report.

Their selection of homemade goodies looked to be one of quality rather than quantity and I plumped for a chocolate brownie.

Big enough to share. Thankfully I was alone.

Warm. Mmm, extra brownie points for that.

No crust to break through and no nuts to crunch.

Moist and  firm. Mild chewiness.

This is definitely sweet but there’s enough cocoa punch to balance it.

Verdict:  One very beguiling brownie. This knows exactly what it’s about and simplicity is its strength.

NB: The hot chocolate and coffee are stupendous. Drink your hearts out Costa, Starbucks, Nero, Pret et al.

Don’t eat that, eat this

Bag of delights

Oliver Peyton likes a finger in every pie. Not only did he own a load of successful restaurants and bars  from the 80s to mid noughties, he’s added another ingredient to his commercial repetoire: cake shops/cafes.

As your cake-quality-controller extraordinare, I have been ploughing through the wares at Peyton and Byrne.

These are my findings so far. Keep dropping by because I’ll be updating the list as I eat.

Bakewell tart

They baked it well

First up is a demure and under-stated slice of Bakewell tart:

Supremely short and buttery pastry that melts in the mouth.

Wholesome, homemade-tasting raspberry jam.

Satisfying, sticky texture to the almond paste, but the frangipane wasn’t fulsome enough.

Verdict: A pleasing tea-time treat.

Fig roll

It looks like a heavy-duty sausage roll without the porcine sheen.

Don’t be fooled; if you like your cakearama plain and you enjoy figs, this  is for you.

It’s very figgy and the pastry is short, not dry.

Dips well in tea and does itself proud.

Verdict: No goo but good all the same.

Chocolate and banana cake

All glistening and glossy dark chocolate on the outside, beautifully striped with pale yellow frosting on the inside. My heart sings when I see something such as this.

A thing of beauty

It was all I could do to delay eating long enough to photograph it: note fork impatiently hovering

The delectable narna cream nearly distracted me enough, but not quite.

The sum of parts delivers overall. Faultless banana frosting. Chocolate topping that isn’t shy of cocoa.

But. But. There’s something about the integrity of the fat that niggles….. it’s not ……m a r g a r i n e…..is it?

Verdict: Call me fussy, but it won’t be a regular in my tummy.

Giant jaffa cake

Oh that’s a good idea; big fat jaffa cakes that beat the pants off the originals.

Dark and milk varieties with juicy, tongue-tingling orange jelly.

Crisp biscuit base.

Verdict: Get ‘em in.

Squillionaire’s shortbread

Luxe, lovely and get me another

Breathtaking. Don’t go another day without eating it.

Gratifyingly thick but chewy layer of chocolate, redolent with cocoa.

Rich caramel-toffee layer that’s worth every trip to the dentist once you’ve had a few too many of these.

Abundant, buttery shortbread base. I prefer ’em not too chilled.

Verdict: A squillion times better than others of the same ilk.

Marmalade Chelsea bun

A perky and logical twist on its better-known cousin, the currant.

This is a bonny bun to have for breakfast and harmonises equally well with tea or coffee.

Light and feathery dough with no-nonsense dollops of marmalade containing real orange.

It has zing and falls just the right side of sweet without being too sugary.

Verdict: Def worth trashing the toast and cereal for.

Apple and blackberry crumble cake

A bit of crumble or a piece of cake? More mongrel morsel than fabulous fusion.

Too much starchy paraphernalia and not enough fruit.

Verdict: If you must dabble, do it warm and add cream or custard.

Apple tart

This convinced me with its simplicity and honesty.

A goodly amount of al dente apple chunks and nothing oversweet.

A little cinnamon complemented it well.

Verdict: You won’t go far wrong with a piece of this.

Coffee and walnut cake

Instead of sponge layered with creamy frosting, this one was boldly covered in walnuts. A dangerous weapon against anaphylactics, but very enticing to the less allergic among us.

As it turned out, the nuts were too numerous and the cake was on the dry side. Quite underwhelming.

Verdict: Erm, stick to coffee in a cup.

…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…

That was then, this is now – they’ve ditched lots of  nuts and lashed on more layers of frosting. I’ll let you know the verdict soon.

Coffee and walnut: the sequel

Chocolate cupcake

This should have been sublime. I was dreaming of  all-butter airy sponge, rich chocolate frosting and satisfaction levels as high as a six-tier cake stand in Claridges.

After one bite I came down to earth with a bump.

The texture and taste of this smacked of the m-word again. Yep, margarine.

Enough said.

Verdict: Leave it in the shop.

Lemon Madeira

If life gives you lemon cake, eat it

This is more like it; light and zing-a-ling zesty.

Succulent and moist cake that needed no adornment – no icing required.

Verdict: Go on. It’s only little.

Pear Wellington

A  red-wine soaked pear nestles in what appears to be a flaky pastry nappy.

Don’t let it deter you,  the pastry is crisp, flaky and more-ish.

There’s a blob of almond paste for richness.

Verdict: Sumptuous yet virtuous. What’s not to like?

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