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Blog > March 2013
Inside Balthazar
All the press I've seen on Balthazar’s February arrival into the UK from New York has been focused on the brasserie that fills a large part of a street off the Covent Garden piazza.  Now, whilst we’re not opposed to savoury food here (I’ll never say no to a cheese scone!), we are, really, all about cake.  Next door to Balthazar’s glamorous looking restaurant is their rather gorgeous bakery. 
 
Outside Balthazar Balthazar Bakery
The first window is heaving with croissants, pain aux raisins and pain au chocolats and, behind those, more pretty cakes line the tables and rest on cake stands above.  Loaf cakes, cheesecakes, financiers, Bakewell tart, Kughelhopf, Rhum Baba, Opera…  A wonderful variety, all made in house and (shhh…) sold at 50% off in the last half hour before closing.  On my first walk past I selected three items after a lengthy discussion with the staff and a small taste of the traditional Kughelhopf.  On my way home I happened to pass it again.  I decided to take another picture of the window and spotted the 50% off sign so I entered again, selected two more cakes and an incredible tuna roll and headed home with my feast.
 
The chocolate Kughelhopf was one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve had in some time.  Ultra moist and the perfect balance of sweetness and chocolate with nuts to create even more delicious contrast.  I would have enjoyed the Rocher more if it didn’t have an unexpected layer of lemon mousse inside it.  The financier was very moist but the jam a bit sweet for my tastes.  The Opera and Lemon Drizzle were perfectly fine but I’m no rush to buy them again.  I am, however, very much looking forward to going back to buy the chocolate Kughelhopf again.  At prices ranging from £1 for the little financier to £3.75 for the fancier cakes Balthazar fits in well with other patisserie in the same category in London.  Worth visiting!
Balthazar brownie

Chocolate Pecan brownies at the front, Rum Babas in the middle and Eclairs at the back
Balthazar ceiling
What a ceiling!
Balthazat financier
A close up of Balthazar financiers (the Chocolate Kughelhopf is in the top left)

Posted: 29/03/2013 23:16:13 by | with 0 comments


Here’s a review especially for the Northerners… or those willing to travel North, which is hopefully all of you!

In January I ventured to Yorkshire and further into Northumberland. It was a last minute trip, but I knew I’d be back so it seemed worth going to cover as much ground as possible. I managed to get in touch with the team at Close House who very kindly invited me to sample their afternoon tea. With my lovely chauffeurs for the day we accepted to share one serving between the three of us (with extra cups for our tea!).
Close House Hotel Northumberland
The road to Close House, like so many exclusive hotels, winds through the countryside, though it is just a short drive from Newcastle. Close House is attached to a major golf course which Lee Westwood is affiliated and comes to play regularly. That explains the rolling green in every direction. The hotel is a striking mansion amongst this.

It’s hard to believe a little more than 50 years ago this mansion was sold for £19,500. That sale was to Kings College, Newcastle. In 2004 it was sold again to one of the local co-founders of Sage Accounting Software. What else do you buy your wife when you’ve floated a multi-million pound company? It seems only a country house will do. They have spent the last nine years redeveloping the mansion and the golf course into a luxury retreat. The hotel can host great charity events and concerts as well.
In 2012, under their new, but very experienced, hotel manager, Peter Llewellyn, the main restaurant was refurbished and the menu redeveloped. No detail has been left untouched, the dinnerware was designed exclusively for the hotel by Heritage Silverware, as were the silver tea jugs and other silverware, which all bear the Close House Hotel crest.

Close House Dining RoomClouse House Silver JugClose House AfternoonTea
If the afternoon tea is anything to go by then it would be quite a place to enjoy dinner or lunch. It's an imposing dining room, but one that is still very welcoming, two ladies were enjoying lunch with their babies in prams by the table when we arrived. On the food, one of my lovely companions, who has spent years teaching secondary students how to bake, described the scones as “second to none”. There were no disappointing items within the afternoon tea and the rhubarb custard pannacotta was wonderful, the lemon macaron was one of the best I've tried and the delice was divine.
Close House pouring teaClose House Afternoon Tea desserts
Throughout the year Close House also offer themed afternoon teas, such as the Chocolate Afternoon Tea during Chocolate Week in October and special menus for Valentine’s and Christmas.  Reason to return again and again!
 
The Traditional Afternoon Tea is priced at £17.50 and the Champagne Afternoon Tea is £24.50.  Great Cake Places were guests of the hotel.

Posted: 28/03/2013 09:38:25 by | with 0 comments


The lovely people at Salter have very kindly given us a huge pile of their wonderful new Heston baking equipment to give away.  Now if Heston Blumenthal, the precision scientist of the cooking world, has put his name to these products, then I am expecting you will get world-class results from using them!  They are pretty as well as being ultra functional.  It's likely the selection includes equipment that you know you should buy but you've probably been coping without.  For the all-important science aspect of baking you need the precision that this equipment will give you.  [I want it all!]

Heston Blumenthal for Salter Homewares
 
All you have to do to be considered to win this fantastic package is complete the questionnaire telling us about your favourite cake places.  Only one entry per person, please!  Anyone who has already completed the survey (thank you!) will also be considered an entrant and have the chance to win.
 
Here’s a closer look at what you could win… (all of the below items will go to one lucky winner!)
 
Heston Scales
Heston Orb Scale                                  
Isn’t this pretty?  It has an aquatronics function (translation: it weighs liquids properly) and even comes with a dishwasher safe, stainless steel bowl so you can even weigh your egg whites without a risk of fat spoiling your peaks.
 
Heston Glass Timer
Heston Glass Timer

It’s magnetic (!), amongst, you know, all the proper counting up and down features.  You can stand it up too, if you don’t have any places that you can utilise the magnet.
 
Heston Salter oven timer
Heston Analogue Oven Thermometer

This piece of equipment is often overlooked but even relatively modern ovens can be surprisingly inaccurate in their temperature which can mean the difference between a soggy cake and a well-risen one!
 
Heston Confectionery Thermometer
Heston Confectionery Thermometer

You really cannot safely make a caramel without one of these (unless perhaps if you’ve had years of experience) and there’s not much worse than the smell and smoke from burnt sugar, not to mention trying to clean up a pan of burnt sugar (yes, I may have done this once or twice and this particular item is going straight to the top of my wish list).  The best bit?  As well as 11 pre-set temperatures (oh, the simplicity) it BEEPS to let you know when the temperature is reached!

Heston Spatula Set by Salter Homewares
Heston Spatula Set (x2)

These are quite sci-fi looking, and acting as well, by the fact they can cope with temperatures up to 250C and won’t scratch your pans either.  I love that they have double ends and these even include a straight line and pointy part to properly get into corners of square containers.
 
Heston Rolling Pin

Heston Rolling Pin

Maybe I’ve not been around much, but I’ve never seen a rolling pin with this kind of precision rolling options to get accurate thicknesses.  Perfect for getting your shortbread biscuits an equal height!  You can even chill it in the fridge first to avoid warming your pastry too much.

If you would like to see more all of these products are on www.hestonbysalter.com.
 
Want to win?  Quick!  Go to complete the questionnaire now! 

Small Print
The competition will continue until 31st May 2013.  After this date a winner will be drawn at random from all completed entries.  The winner will be notified in two weeks.  If they do not respond to our attempts to contact them within 14 days we reserve the right to draw again.  We regret that this competition is only open to people with UK addresses.  Only fully complete surveys will be considered.  Only one entry per person will be counted.

Posted: 25/03/2013 17:14:02 by | with 0 comments


A slice of Apple Cake
 
On the way back from Yorkshire in January we detoured off the M1 to visit a little café in Derby that I’d heard good things about.  It was busy for a late weekday lunchtime, with just one table remaining -luckily for us!  This café, Baked, has a bakery with shelves ladened with bread as well as a menu of homecooked breakfasts, lunch options and, of course, cake.  Each day Victoria arrives at 5am and bakes the cake of the day.  This is three hours after her husband arrives to bake the bread (he does leave the cafe earlier!).  At the end of the day, whatever isn’t sold becomes part of her and her husband’s supper.  I imagine they go to bed quite early!  Whilst the cakes change regularly, on Saturday’s, she told me, she always makes her grandmother’s apple cake because people request it so much they have now come to expect it.  I was delighted when she agreed to send me the recipe so I would have a chance to taste it for myself.

Last week I was given a bottle of Hill Farm Rapeseed Oil to test out, so this seemed like the perfect excuse to make Victoria's apple cake!  With the snow blowing in every direction outside this weekend, I stuck to the warmth of my kitchen and made the perfect treat for a far-too-cold March Saturday.
 
POLISH APPLE CAKE
Courtesy of Baked Café in Derby

Ingredients:

2 Bramley apples- peeled, cored and sliced.
3 tbs soft brown sugar
1 and a half tsp ground cinnamon

250g plain flour
350 g Caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda,
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 medium eggs
150g rapeseed oil
1 and half tsp vanilla extract
4 tbs freshly squeezed orange juice
(NOTE: I found this was about the juice from one medium orange)

Instructions:

Grease and line an 8 inch, deep cake tin
Preheat oven to 170 fan oven

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over apples as you slice them.
Toss and set aside.
Polish Apple Cake Slices
Add the flour, caster sugar, salt, eggs, rapeseed oil, vanilla extract and orange juice. Mix in a Kenwood/kitchen aid or a hand held mixer on low for 1 minute, then medium for 3 minutes.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and mix for one more minute.

Spoon 1/3 mix into tin, top with half the apples. Spoon next 1/3 of mixture on top and the rest of the apples on top of that. Finish with the last 1/3 of mixture.
Polish Apple Cake LayeringApple Cake ready for the oven
Bake for 1hr 15 mins to 1hr 30 mins.
Check after 1hr 15 and if browning too quickly cover with foil.

Delicious warm with cream or custard.
Keeps well in an airtight container.
Baked Polish Apple Cake
 
I have to say, it tastes pretty good cold as well.  This is a lovely and moist cake and very simple to make.  I’m not sure if the bubbling of the brown sugar mixture around the edges is normal but it tasted pretty good, giving an almost biscuity edge to the cake.
 
A perfect cake to enjoy over Easter when it’s likely you’ll want a break from chocolate!
 

Posted: 24/03/2013 20:35:32 by | with 0 comments


Tate & Lyle logo
The Tate & Lyle logo in sugar

 
Tate & Lyle Sugars tasting
Tasting the range of Tate & Lyle Sugars

Tate & Lyle have decided that it’s time people know their sugar.
 
To celebrate the relaunch of their range of their sugars for baking and the Golden Syrup sugar (that’s right, sugar made from Lyle’s Golden Syrup!) they took over a town house in Soho and commissioned 14 bakers to create edible treats to fill each room.
 
Tate & Lyle cakes
Every room was a celebration of a particular sugar, highlighting the importance of using the right sugar for the right baking.  Tasting notes and menus and “Eat Me” signs provided helpful clues for the experience.  It was very difficult to spoil the beauty of these creations by biting into them…. But I managed!  I never thought I would get down on my knees and eat from the floor.  But when it’s a delightful chewy meringue rug, who can resist?
 
Tate & Lyle meringue rug
It took more than 2,000 hours to bake and another 900 to decorate every piece, using more than 600kg of sugar.  That’s a LOT of sugar.  Whilst it might all seem a little frivolous, it is fun and I think we all need more fun in our lives. 
 
Tonight one lucky person who tweets @welovebaking with why they want to stay in this #cakehotel will sleep overnight in this tasty house.  Perhaps there will be an undamaged cushion to bite into for a midnight snack…

Tate & Lyle #tastinghouse #cakehotelTate & Lyle turtle
Inside the real egg shells was more cake!

Tate & Lyle window and cushion
Tate & Lyle giant cake
Mardi Gras cake
Tate & Lyle South Pacific room

The head is a cake!
Tate & Lyle Cake Head Jennifer EarleTate & Lyle rose cookiesTate & Lyle edible houseTate & Lyle
Cake tower
Tate & Lyle treasure chese
 

Posted: 20/03/2013 13:14:48 by | with 0 comments


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Great Cake Places Blog

Jennifer Earle

Welcome to the Great Cake Places blog. I'm Jennifer Earle, the Content Director for Allegra Publications. I love cake. All kinds of cake. Lemon drizzle, coffee & walnut, chocolate, ginger, carrot… I love trying new cakes and baking them too. I’'m particularly obsessed with chocolate and quite partial to cheese scones, straight from the oven, spread with real butter. This job makes me a very happy girl. Please do register for access to discounts we’'ll be adding and say hi in the comments of the blog!

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Right now we'’re travelling the country researching our new book, Great Cake Places Britain.  We will be updating this blog every few weeks with new pictures, recipes, shop openings and general cake-related news.  If you would like to write a guest post, please get in touch.

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