My Mum's Christmas Cake

Every year my Mum will make her amazing Christmas Cake and she even did a guest blog entry for me last year.

I made the cake two Christmas's ago and was lucky enough to be in Australia last year so I didn't get the chance. So this year as it will be my first Christmas as my boyfriends families house I thought a cake like my mum use to do was only fitting.  However as I hosted a Christmas dinner for my lovely lady pals in London last week I decided to make two smaller cakes and try my hand a decorating on of them. I forgot to get a picture of my un iced cake, so here is my first ever attempt at properly iced Christmas cake. It wasn't to hard to do at all and the decoration possibilities are endless. I used the idea for the tree from another blog I follow, with my own touch of course... Let's hope the family enjoy it!!

Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and many Happy Baking Returns for the year ahead

xx Laura

Lily Vanilli Bakery Review

What would you do if you won the lottery? Its a question we have all wondered throughout the course of our life, some want cars, holidays, jewellery and to never work again. As much as the thought of never having to stand on a peak our train squished together like sardines, I don't think at this point I could spend the rest of my life as a lady of leisure and I would definitely open a bakery or tea shop and bake until my heart's content.

In my travels around this wonderful city of London I often think about where is the best place to set up shop and earlier this year I found it!!! Right in the heart of the Columbia Road Flower Market in the cutest little alcove surrounded by other cute boutique shops. This place had it so easy with the flower market literally on its doorstep and rows and rows of adorable shops, non of which were bakeries or tea shops. Any places you could eat barely have enough room for more than about 5 people to sit down and enjoy a well deserved break from the flower market with some tea and cake. The 'coffee shop' that was already there had no charm, no warmth and no taste, yet for me would be the perfect place to set up what I would consider a perfect little corner of the world.

A few months later I was pleased to hear the Lily Vanilli Bakery was opening... This was exciting!! I'd come across her A Zombie Ate My Cupcake! book last Halloween and have been always in love with her style of baking. Her cakes are the ones you want to smash in your face when you see it and that's exactly what I want from my cakes. Not "aww wow doesn't that look like an exact replica of your favourite car"... I want a cake that my taste buds will enjoy and not just my eyes.

Even Lily's up on her puns...
Too cute!

One Sunday afternoon my girls and I met up on Columbia Road at the usual place near the man who makes  the best flat whites whist squished in the doorway between two shops. I had figured out that Lily Vanilli's bakery was close by, and when I checked on my phone it said we were about 100 feet away. As we headed off Columbia Road I walked in to this cute little alley way only to find where had once been a crappy 'coffee' shop was now a cute bakery packed inside and out and cute fairy lights hanging from the ceiling. Lily Vanilli had 'stolen' my dream... but hey you snooze you loose...get it? Whatever, I think its a winning pun!

My cupcake order was ready and waiting when I arrived (okay second time around it was ready and waiting as Groupon didn't place my order, but lets keep this post in a nice tone - profanities don't get you anywhere) and my friends were very happy with me when I walked into the pub with these gorgeous cupcakes. There was  a selection of vanilla, chocolate and red velvet with a selection of meringue, brownie or coconut toppings... all were delish, but my favourite was the meringue.

All and all, my overall experience combined with the actual cupcakes at Lily Vanilli I give a 10 out of 10. The girls in the store were very helpful when they realised my order had not been received by Groupon and sorted this out promptly and followed up to ensure the order was ready for me the next time I arrived. However I can't say the same for Groupon who only contacted me back 2 weeks after I made my second attempt to pick up the cupcakes - tsk tsk!

Will be definitely visiting Lily Vanilli again as the array of delicious treats staring at me from the counter on both the occasions that I visited will be to hard to resist, and also perfect to help recover after the crowds of the flower market. I suggest you try it out too.

Happy Baking x

Beetroot Brownie & Recipe 15 - Jam & Coconut Slice

A few weeks ago Pete and I ventured up North to visit his brother and family in Coventry. It was my first time in Coventry and I got all the typical jokes about being sent there etc. Jokes aside it was a lovely couple of days hanging out with his two nieces and their cat. Actually I think the cat loved the attention I gave it so much that on the second night it bought me a present.. a mouse. Cat's are so sweet.. as were the girls.

Before venturing up North, Pete's sister in law contacted me to ensure firstly, that I had a pair of suitable shoes as I think the last time she saw me I was struggling with my heels in the back garden. Secondly, she knew I would bringing some kind of baked goods with me and requested I bake something for Children in Need for her eldest daughter to take into school that day. I couldn't help myself so I made raspberry and coconut slice for the school and chocolate brownies as my 'Thanks for Having Us Gift.'

I have made raspberry and coconut slice many times before with my own recipe, however I wanted to use this as an opportunity to get through another recipe in my Women's Weekly Challenge. The rich chocolate beetroot brownies has always been a winner in the past and they definitely did the job this time and even Charlotte being only 3 couldn't get enough of these - kids got good taste!!

I was happy to see when Hannah came out of school that my tin had been was completely empty. You got to love kids honesty though as when asked if she had tried one she said none of the kids like them and only the adults ate them. Oh well, at least the brownies were a winner with these kids.

Happy Baking x

Miss Lulu's Birthday Carrot Cake

This weekend we celebrated the lovely Miss Lulu's Birthday. She is one of my closest and dearest friends and also one of my biggest fans, maybe that's why she is so good to me... so she get's cake in return...hmmm.

Photo's Courtesy of Helena

Whatever the reason, I do love to make her favourite cake, Carrot Cake. She did toy with the idea of other flavours, but this cake is just too good to beat. The recipe is from the first Hummingbird cookbook and last time I made this I didn't realise it was meant to be 3 layers instead of 2. This then affected the amount of icing I actually needed and I threw a large quantity of it away which I was later scolded for by Lulu... I'll never do that again. This time around I thought since I'd be clever and make slightly less cream cheese icing, however I  quickly realised why double quantity was needed on a 3 layer cake. Anyway, no one really noticed and I wasn't in trouble for throwing out extra cream cheese icing.

I was quite happy with my 3 layer cake efforts and so did a number of people who were on the East London Ginger Line as I transported it to Lulu's party. It always surprises me that when Im carrying cake how many people are intrigued by such a simple gesture of baking a cake and are very forth coming in saying so. Its very comforting.

Happy Birthday Lulu! Wishing you a very special day... filled with more cake!

Happy Baking x

Altitude 360 - Afternoon Tea

Last weekend I finally got around to using a voucher which I received a few months ago for two people to attend Afternoon Tea at the top of the Millbank Tower in the restaurant aptly called Altitude 360.

A bit of history on this one. About 18 months ago I completed a Diploma in Event Management and our group assignment was to put together a presentation to present as if we were pitching to a company to win the piece of business. As part of the assignment we all had to act like this event was actually going to happen which included visiting venues, which is how I found out about this restaurant. When our team went to view the space it wasn't in action and not even the tables and chairs were out, however we were blown away with the view as it literally gives you a 360 degree view from the 29th floor out over central London.

Ever since seeing the view (I am obsessed with heights & lights) I have always wanted to go back, however the prices were always out of my reach. However the chance arose when good old Groupon offered up a 60% off voucher (original value £87.50) and so Pete ever so kindly purchased a voucher for us.

Firstly we were greeted and taken to our table and for a minute I thought since we had a voucher we would not be seated at a window, but instead we were taken to the far corner which had the best views in the restaurant, including Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, The London Eye right in front of us and then a view right up the Thames to the city and the Gherkin. It was a pretty spectacular view from the 29th floor.

At first glance the venue looks very minimalistic and clean with most of the decor in white and black bench seating around the edge. However on closer look it all looked a bit unfinished with white paint splatters on my seat and dirt marks down the side of the cabinet next to us which was holding a cracked vase.

Once seated we were were offered a selection of Twinnings teas and we both went with English Breakfast to start. I do like Twinnings tea's, but for the price you have to pay for Afternoon Tea I would expect loose leaf tea... maybe I'm a tea snob.

Our food was brought out not long after our tea's had arrived in once again another minimalistic (plain) cake stand, which for two people looked a little sparse. On the bottom we had a selection of sandwiches including, egg & mayo with lettuce, salmon & cream cheese, cheese & pickles, cucumber and ham & mustard.

In the middle we had scones!!! I was looking forward to these, except that when I opened one up it literally broke off and crumbled in my hand. To say the least... they were overcooked and dried out. Pete had his and thought it was okay, so let him have the raisin one and I moved to the top layer of sweets.

This layer I had mixed thoughts about, but overall it was quite nice. Once again with the minimalistic theme, but to me it was just a bit boring and nothing really excited my eyes. I started with the macaroons which I've never really been a lover of anyway. The raspberry was okay, but the coffee one was a bit of a weird flavour. The tart was nice and creamy and the mini meringue was lovely and crisp. I left the lemon cake for Pete as its one of his favourites and I got to eat the chocolate sponge which was light and fluffy.

All in all I would give them Afternoon Tea experience a 5 out of 10. If I had paid the full price of about £85 for two people I would have been very disappointed. There was an extra point in there purely because I like to be up very high... and this is a cheaper way of doing it than training to be a pilot, or so I found out the hard way.

myspace shot!
The afternoon post Altitude was spent walking to up to the House of Westminster and paying our respects at Westminster Abbey to all the soldiers who were in attendance for Remembrance Day. And like some proper tourists we walked past Buckingham Palace through Green Park and all the way to Harrods where I went a little mental over Christmas Land. And therefore I rate the rest of the day a 9 out of 10, I took a point off because of the subsequent blisters on my feet.

Happy Baking x

Tracey's Banana Bread

A few years ago I was very lucky to have my dear friend Tracey come and live in London for the good part of a year. For the first few months however as she found her feet she became our extra housemate. I do very much look fondly back on that time in the Villas as my sister was also staying with us setting herself up in London. Most days going home was always a full house and I loved knowing I was going home to some good friends and family.

One of my favourite things about Tracey staying was her baking. At this point in my time in London I had not really started baking at all, however I definitely got the bug after Tracey stayed with us. One of my favourite things she made was her Banana Bread. She must know this recipe back to front and could make it in the blink of any eye. One minute there would be old brown banana's sitting around ready for the bin... then next minute the house smelt wonderfully of Banana Bread.

Before she left I got her to write down her recipe. These days we go to the Internet to get some recipe from some blogger we have never heard of before, however nothing beats a hand written recipe that erroneously reads baking powder instead of bi-carb.

And nothing beats a warm piece of banana bread with some butter and honey... oh and of course a cup of tea!

Happy Baking x

PS. I would give you the recipe but its mine and Tracey's secret....

Banana, Caramel & Date Cookies - Recipe 14 of the Women's Weekly Challenge

I have been majorly slack at blogging of late and even more so on the baking. I go through periods of wanting to write and then peroids where its the BIGGEST CHORE IN THE WORLD. I guess going out to a gig after work and telling yourself that you will go home and go straight to work is the best time to actually start writing a blog entry...or not? Not sure where the enthusiasm come from, thought I can bet its probably just tiredness and I'm rambling, but hey here I am.

This is another recipe in my Women's Weekly Baking challenge which by the look of it will be going well into next year... but that's okay as I make my own rules. The next rule I am going to make up is that I don't have to go in order of recipes as I'm very keen to skip and try my hand at some macaroons and with Christmas fast approaching, maybe some Christmas treats too.

These biscuits were relatively easy to bake, however I didn't want to over cook them, but I think I went slightly the other way and undercooked them, but I much prefer a chewy biscuit and it appears so do a few others. I still remember back in the day when my friend worked at Subway and she would bake a whole batch of cookies, pretend to under cook them and then put them in a bag to 'throw out'. I would then get a text that my cookies were ready to be binned and I would drive down and bit up the bag of undercooked Subway cookies... delish!

The mixture of the banana and date in the recipe gave a great flavour, unfortunately the toffee on most melted through to the bottom and eventually fell out when they got stuck to the paper, which bring me on to another point. So the other day I went to Robert Dyas to get some chocolate for my fondue and while I was there I was looking at the baking section and I noticed there was greaseproof paper and parchment paper. I currently have greaseproof paper as I naturally assumed that this would mean you wouldn't actually have to grease the paper, however as I read both the labels carefully, I noticed that the only different between the two was that parchment paper doesn't need to be greased with butter or oil to use and yet greaseproof does.. WEIRD! Maybe its different in Australia and that's why I have always got it wrong in the UK and just assumed all their baking papers needed greasing. I am glad to have found this out before starting on the macaroons section.... I think some tantrums would have been had. Though I bet there still will be...

Anyway, enough with the rambling... all in all.. this was a very flavoursome recipe and I have been asked for more, so maybe with my parchment paper in hand, the toffee will stay put. 

Happy Baking x

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes

I have mentioned in a few previous blog posts that my friend Lulu's mum Pixie has been staying in London for a few months now, however her time here has sadly come to and end and she is flying back to Australia on Monday.. *sniff*

I will be very sad to see her go as in the time that she has been here we have had some great times together. She has shared many stories and now I have a few stories to tell of my time with Pixie and I've been very grateful to get to know one of my good friends mums so well.

Anyway last night I joined Lulu and Pixie on the boat (did I mention Lulu lives on a boat on the Thames.... amaze right?) for dinner and of course I baked some treats to take along with me to share and as I learnt from the early beginning.... she'll eat pretty much anything - except banana's.

The cupcakes were just something I wanted to try as chocolate and peppermint has been a flavour I have loved since I was a wee'un. I made a batch of my vanilla cupcake & vanilla butter cream recipes and added a teaspoon of peppermint essence to both, oh and of course some food colouring. I then made a batch of chocolate cupcakes with the infamous chocolate icing and swirled the two together.

I am my own worse critic and I still think they could be better as the chocolate cake seemed a little dry, but hey there were no complaints.

And to Pixie, I am very sad to see you go as the time I have spent with you has been amazing and I can totally understand now where that daugther of yours gets her sparkle.. I am very lucky to have her as one of my best friends and I thank you for that.

Please come back and visit soon, but I won't say goodbye, just see you soon xx

Much Love and Happy Baking x

Clementine (Mandarin) & Polenta Biscuits - Recipe 13 of the Women's Weekly Challenge

Happy National Baking week everyone! As much as I love that its baking week in the UK, I feel like its been a bit swamped but National Chocolate Week, National Cheese Week, National Cupcake week.. and the list goes on. However I would have really liked to have made it down to the Chocolate Week event they had going on at Vinopolis... now that looked amaze.

Anyway back to the baking and since I baked this during National Chocolate week, then next week except a bunch of chocolate posts... I made my own baking weeks! Now a few posts back I mentioned that I've come across a few ingredients in this books that are sometimes a bit difficult to come by in the UK. This one another one of those, and it just happened to be the main ingredient - Mandarin.

Whilst I was told they were probably available in the country, I wasn't going to go tracking all over London just to find some and so I substituted with some Clementines and they did the job. The recipe also include mandarin juice. I'm still not 100% sure what mandarin juice is, some of my more recent Aussie friends who have come over advised me that this was some for of cordial, so instead I just blitzed some of the clementines and then strained the juice... actually that was LK's idea - so I won't take the credit on that.

I was a little worried when they came out that they were undercooked as I think by nature the dough is meant to be a slightly pale. The smell however definitely made them inviting and I had a number of people who came and told me how much they did actually enjoy them. A few suggested that they should make an appearance in the tea room again soon though I have about another 50 - 60 recipes to get through just in this book alone so maybe next year.

Happy Baking x

Vanilla & Mocha Twists - Recipe 12 of the Women's Weekly Challenge

As I frequently have to do the peak hour train journey out to The Readings I thought I could actually use this time to catch up on blog entries. However as its peak hour I always end up standing either between seats annoying people knocking them about with my backpack or squished in-between carriages. I have found my spot now as a frequent* traveler in the section between first class carriages were I can sit on the ground with my bag yet without a first class ticket - I feel slight more privileged to be stuck there... the small things in life.
*Pete might disagree

Last week I managed to get through two more recipes in my baking challenge, however in the wrong order. On Tuesday I wanted to do the mandarin & polenta biscuits however I struggled to find any polenta and even sending LK to the shops on her way home too we failed to find any. When I got home I turned to the next recipe and thankfully I had all the ingredients (except two teaspoons of instant coffee - thanks Tom) and so I got baking on the next recipe.. Vanilla & Mocha Twists.

I thought these looked like they were going to be quite difficult as the whole twist thing to me looked quite delicate. However it was surprisingly easy, however in this picture below, I had actually measure out the dough to 40cm like the recipe advised, but do you think that I could twist the whole thing in one go...

I'm not sure what they do in that kitchen, but it wasn't working for me. I did manage to work out my own way and I was actually surprised at the conformity I got throughout the batch.

Oh and they tasted pretty amaze too...

Happy Baking x