The Battle of the Cinnamon Buns: Nordic Bakery vs. Scandinavian Kitchen

Central London's finest:  Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The  Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

Central London’s finest: Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

In the last few years, interest in Scandinavian food has risen enormously.  It is easy to attribute this popularity to the influence of Noma, Børgen or Ikea and, whilst this may still be the case, it is part of London’s culinary history to look to other parts of the world for inspiration.  Whilst on the savoury courses, we are often divided; many, for example, happily devour the meatballs but are hesitant about idea of some of the more extreme pickled fish; the sweet dishes are another story.  The success of Signe Johansen‘s book Scandilicous Baking speaks volumes, and the opening of several Scandinavian bakeries across London has sent us clamouring for the lingonberry tarts and spiced biscuits that we could only otherwise find in the freezer section of the local Ikea.

The biggest craze of all, though, has to be for the Scandi cinnamon buns.  These are so popular that many of the London cafes sell out daily.  They are bread buns, rolled with a cinnamon filling and often topped with pearl sugar or a glaze.  Many people in my office cannot survive a week without one.

Luckily for us, we have two Scandinavian cafes within walking distance:  the Marylebone branch of The Nordic Bakery, on New Cavendish Street and Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street.  There has been a great deal of disagreement among those who work in the west end about which cafe makes the best cinnamon bun, so I decided to settle this with a ‘cinnamon bun-off’; a blind taste test of the two buns from which, I hoped, there would be a clear winner.  Fortunately, I was not short of volunteers for this experiment among my colleagues.

The Test:  a simple blind taste test of the cinnamon buns, purchased on the same day, from The Nordic Bakery and Scandinavian Kitchen.  Each taster chooses a winner.  That’s it.

The Contenders:

The Nordic Bakery, 37b New Cavendish Street, London W1G 8JR
The Nordic Bakery has three sites across London: our New Cavendish Street Local, the original on Golden Square, Soho and another on Dorset Street.  These beautiful little wood-panelled cafes are designed to be “a peaceful meeting place in a frantic city” and sell a range of coffees, sandwiches and baked goods.  A cinnamon bun costs £2.40.

Scandinavian Kitchen, 61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP
This very busy cafe, with its amusing street-front chalkboard offering, among other things, ‘free hugs’ is a Fitzrovia lunchtime favourite.  They sell coffees, a range of baked goods, sandwiches and a mix-and-match smoregsboard of various nordic delights.  A cinnamon bun costs £1.70.

The Results:

I bought three buns from each bakery, which were cut into quarters and places in two piles, each labelled simply ‘A’ and ‘B’.  12 taste testers – all cinnamon bun aficionados from my office –  tried each of the buns and gave their verdict.  Some devoured one of the pieces of bun before starting on the other; others alternated bites between the two.  There was a lot of head-tipping and thoughtful noises.  Work stopped momentarily to discuss the beauty of cinnamon buns and argue about whether tea or coffee was the best accompaniment.  One by one, they gave me their scores and, the winner is….

Scandinavian Kitchen, by nine votes to three!

The main winner for Scandinavian Kitchen was the texture of the buns – the dough was soft and almost brioche-like, compared to the more tightly rolled dough of the buns from The Nordic Bakery; most felt the latter was a little too dense and they would struggle to eat a whole one.  The panel was, interestingly, divided over what was the best topping for a cinnamon bun; some preferred the sticky glaze of The Nordic Bakery’s buns, whereas others preferred the pearl sugar topping used by Scandinavian Kitchen.  They all agreed that both buns were excellent and had a good cinnamon flavour, but the lightness of the dough was what swung it Scandinavian Kitchen-wards.

If you want to have a go at making your own, Signe Johansen’s recipe from Woman’s Hour Cook the Perfect… can be found here.


A Chocolate Coconut Brownie for Fairtrade Fortnight

A couple of years ago, I took part in a Fairtrade baking challenge with a prize for the bake containing the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I honestly thought that with nine ingredients I would win, however one of my colleagues managed to use twelve and swiped the prize.  What this exercise taught me, as well as not being a sore loser, was how many Fairtrade products there are.  Not so long ago, it was only really the chocolate and coffee that you could buy in Oxfam and various health food shops, but now there is a Fairtrade stamp on everything from tea, beer, fruit and spices to clothes and beauty products.  Many supermarkets, particularly the Co-op, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are committing to having more and more Fairtrade products in their range, hence helping workers and communities in developing countries across the world.

Yesterday I visited the Divine pop-up shop in Covent Garden.  Divine is a pioneering chocolate company and 45% of its shares is owned by the cocoa farmers.  Its board also comes from a range of forward-thinking charitable organisations across the UK such as ChristianAid and Comic Relief.

From this visit, I was inspired to go back to the idea of baking something using a number of Fairtrade ingredients, this time without the competitive element.  Fairtrade chocolate, cocoa and sugar can be found in most supermarket baking aisles, so the task of buying ingredients for a Fairtrade brownie is an easy one.  Baking the kind of brownie that has a thin crust on top and an almost molten chocolate centre is slightly trickier – you need both a good recipe and the balls to take it out of the oven at the right time, even though it looks completely uncooked.  For the former, I have Felicity Cloake’s failsafe brownie recipe from her Guardian column (works every time), and for the second I have a number of friends who are happy to eat any baked goods, even those that fall apart because they are so underbaked.

To this particular brownie I have added two extras:  milk (not dark, please) chocolate chips that no brownie should ever be without, and some desiccated coconut, which adds a delightful graininess but no real flavour.

(Mostly) Fairtrade Chocolate Coconut Brownies
Adapted from a recipe by Felicity Cloake

  • 250g Fairtrade dark chocolate (I used Divine’s 70% dark chocolate)
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g Fairtrade caster sugar
  • 150g Fairtrade light soft brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
  • 60g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 80g desiccated coconut
  • 80g milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Be careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  With the mixer still running, gradually add the eggs, a little at a time, until fully incorporated.  Turn the speed of the mixer up to high and beat for five minutes until the batter has a sheen and has increased in size.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and carefully fold in the melted chocolate, being careful not to beat too much air out of the eggs.   Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, coconut and chocolate chips in a small bowl before gently stirring them into the mixture.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes.  A knife inserted into the centre of the cake should not come out clean, but a little sticky.  If you feel it is not quite done, return to the oven for a further three minutes, but be careful not to overbake.  Leave to cool for an hour before cutting into squares.

Divine Chocolate Fairtrade Fortnight Pop-up Shop, Covent Garden


It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, which is an annual awareness campaign run by the Fairtrade Foundation that aims to get us really thinking about where our food comes from and how the trade and consumption affects and benefits the local communities in developing countries.  Of course, many of us are aware that Fairtrade has made an enormous difference to workers in these communities by offering better prices, better working conditions, fairer terms of trade and, most importantly, a focus on sustainability so that the communities can continue to trade in a sometimes uncertain future.  It used to be the case that only a few specialist products were Fairtrade, however as time goes on, more and more products are proudly displaying the badge; everything from the traditional Fairtrade products of coffee, chocolate and bananas to less likely items such as clothing, beer and honey. 

During Fairtrade Fortnight there are a number of events to engage with people around this issue.  A couple of years ago I took part in a Fairtrade Bake-Off with a prize for the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I thought I had it in the bag with nine, until my colleague swiped the prize with a massive twelve.

For the second year, Fairtrade chocolate supremo Divine have opened a pop-up shop in Covent Garden for Fairtrade fortnight.  This has coincided with the launch of two new flavours:  a 38% milk chocolate with whole almonds, and a 70% dark chocolate with mango and coconut.  Of course, Divine chocolate is readily available in a number of shops and supermarkets, but having a shop entirely devoted to their range certainly appeals to the chocoholic within me.  Little samples are available of their various bars, of which I tried many, and there is a little coffee machine at the back (Fairtrade, obviously).  In addition to this, they have a counter at the back selling some delicious looking baked goods including millionaire’s shortbread and little macarons.

There are a number of events on at the pop-up throughout Fairtrade Fortnight including sampling, chocolate workshops and meeting the cocoa farmers.

I ended up going home with an incredibly gluttonous four bars:  milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt, dark chocolate with mango and coconut, orange milk chocolate and dark chocolate with chilli and orange.

Divine Pop-Up, 53 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9DA.  Open until Sunday 9th March.

Monday Miscellany

One of the main problems with living in London is that there is so much to do and so little time.  In between the necessities of work, sleep and travel, we have so much to cram in that it can make our heads spin.  Last week was one such week (luckily this week is a little quieter), so with little time this week to write up all of the places I’ve been, I have done a kind of round-up of it all.  Now pass the aspirin.

Underground Cookery School, City of London
On Monday I attended a cooking class for bloggers and food writers at the Underground Cookery School on Old Street.  The cookery classes are aimed at corporate events, hen and stag parties and birthdays.  There was A LOT of wine, so much so that I almost left my goodie bag on the bus on the way home.  The full write up is here.


Attendant Cafe, Fitzrovia
My new favourite spot for a mid-morning caffeine fix is a cafe in a converted Victorian toilet on Foley Street.  Once you get past the realisation that you are drinking coffee in a spot where our ancestors peed, you fall in love with it.  The coffee and cakes are excellent and the staff super-friendly.  It is almost always busy.  The full write up is here.


MyChocolate Workshop, Farringdon
On Tuesday evening I attended a truffle-making workshop, again for bloggers and food writers, with the lovely Aimee and Elliw.  It turns out that there is no future for me as a master chocolatier, however much I really want to be the guy on the Lindt advert, as there is no chocolate shop in the world that would sell my misshapen little blobs.  I did, however, get to dip marshmallows into bowls of molten chocolate, which I haven’t done since I ended up wearing most of the chocolate fountain at a friend’s wedding.  And I was able to provide beer-snacks to the friends I met for drinks afterwards.  The full write up is here.

Flat Iron, Soho
It seems that I am destined to never, ever eat at Pitt Cue.  From the glory days of their truck on the south bank, I have tried to get a table at their Newburgh Street restaurant, always to be told that there is an excruciatingly long wait.  One upside of this tragedy is that I have built up a good list of back-up restaurants within walking distance to avoid ending up in some horrendous chain, crying into my pre-mixed cocktail.  After not getting into Pitt Cue for lunch on Friday, we headed around the corner to Beak Street and saw that Flat Iron had their lunch special burger on the menu.  It seems a bit off to review the restaurant without trying the £10 flat iron steak – their main attraction – but we did manage to squeeze in a Burger League entry.  And not a bad one too.  The full write up is here.


Peckham Springs, Peckham
Friday night was my second visit to Peckham Springs for late night cocktails.  This is the latest in a line of new bars in Peckham, keeping the crowds warm until Frank’s Cafe re-opens in the summer.  It’s a small space under the railway arches, not easy to find, which is why non-locals look at you in disbelief when you direct them under a very dark and dodgy-looking tunnel.  I rather like it, the crowd is a mix of locals and students from nearby Goldsmiths and Camberwell College of Art – it makes me nostalgic for the former, where I spent four years drinking in various bars around New Cross and Peckham on my student loan.  The cocktails are a mere £6, and whilst perhaps not the most refined that you will find, are plentiful and strong.  There is a small kitchen at the side and, sometimes, a street-food van parked out front.  Most seem to use it as a pre-drinking venue for the nearby Bussey Building, so it gets progressively busier as the night goes on.  With the queue for the bar growing rapidly, we headed over to the Montpelier for something a little more conventional:  G&Ts, scampi fries and laughing at the stream of people trying to exit through a locked door.


Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey
There are few things I love more on a Saturday morning than dragging my hungover self for some street food in one of south-east London’s many food markets.  North Cross Road is a convenient distance from my flat, so is perfect for the most extreme of hangovers where cycling or public transport is simply not an option, my absolute favourite is Brockley Market, which has become more of a social occasion than simply an opportunity to eat, and for the days when I am super organised, Maltby Street is a bit of a treat.  Despite our boozing the night before, we made it there pretty early, much to the astonishment of The Ginger Gourmand et famille, who we ran into, predictably, near the coffee stand.  There is so much great stuff at Maltby Street Market, this little paragraph will not do it justice; but we had delicious flat whites from Craft Coffee, hangover-busting breakfast pots from Potdog (mine was sausages, rosemary potatoes and sauerkraut), and chocolate doughnuts from the wonderful St John Bakery.


Postman’s Park, City of London
A non-foodie item, but one that still deserves a mention.  Tucked away behind a church off Little Britain and London Wall, close to the Museum of London, is one of the city’s most interesting memorials.  Postman’s Park contains a memorial to acts of heroism by ordinary Londoners.  This was the creation of the painter George Watts who, at the end of the nineteenth century, wanted to commemorate people who would have otherwise been forgotten.  He was inspired by reports in local papers of people who died saving others and erected a number of plaques to commemorate these ‘everyday heroes’.  A few years ago, whilst at Goldsmiths, I was lucky enough to visit the monument with John Price, who is the leading expert on Postman’s Park, and who has an exceptional knowledge of the memorial itself and he people it commemorates.  He has a book on the subject which can be found here.


The Stormbird, Camberwell
One of the few wet pubs you will find in these ‘ere parts, as most of the south-east London pubs are now also restaurants.  It is a craft beer pub and has an enormous range of beers on tap, as well as a number of bottled beers.  They sell most of them as well-priced half-pint and third-pint glasses to give you the option to try as many as possible without the worry of passing out on the bus home.  They almost always have The Kernel IPA on tap, which pleases Ollie.  I’ve only ever been in there in the evening, but it’s always a lively spot.

The Camberwell Arms, Camberwell
This new pub, run by the same people responsible for gastro-pub stalwart The Anchor & Hope, opened last week to much interest.  It used to be a slightly dodgy venue called The Recreation Rooms, that we would occasionally drink in as students, but that closed not long after it opened.  The refit of the space is impressive with a drinks bar at one side and a food bar on the other, wrapping the open kitchen.  Despite the gripes on Twitter about how it is too expensive for Camberwell etc., the food and drink seemed quite reasonably priced –  A Gin Rickey (basically a pimped up double G&T) and a Bloody Mary were only £5 each.  We didn’t get to try the food as we were off to Silk Road, but I will definitely be back for a bar snack of pork fat on toast. Yes I will.


Silk Road, Camberwell
If all Chinese restaurants were like Silk Road, I would eat Chinese food all the time.  The cuisine is mainly Xinjiang, but with a bit of Sichuan thrown in for good measure.  We used to drunkenly wander in for a late-night dinner after drinking in Camberwell as a matter of course, but since it received a number of rave reviews, including one by Jay Rayner, it is more difficult to get a table.  We ate our usual round of favourites of middle plate chicken, lamb skewers, pork and celery dumplings, double-cooked pork and home-style aubergine.  Honestly, the home-style aubergine is the best aubergine dish I have had ANYWHERE. EVER.  I’m already in the process of planning a huge dinner there for Ollie’s birthday.  On Saturday, our bill came to £29, which was enough food to render us immobile on the number 12 bus home and included drinks.  Book a table or go late.


ToastED, East Dulwich
Is it called ‘Toast’?  Is it called ‘Toasted?’ Who knows.  We’ll call it ‘Toasted’.  Whatever it’s name, I think I am possibly the only person in south-east London yet to eat there.  During the week I am mainly in central London, and at the weekends I am a little scared of being stuck in a place with hoards of children, which often happens on Lordship Lane on the weekend.  (Sorry – but it’s true!)  On Sunday, I popped in with my friend for a coffee and a slice of their famous banana bread and it was so good we ended up staying for the wine.  It’s a really nice place to spend a couple of hours on the weekend and, although there were a few buggies, there were no children racing up and down and screaming.  The banana bread was outrageously good – crispy on the edges and with the texture of bread pudding in the middle.

Nigel Slater’s Smoked Haddock with Cannelini Beans and Mustard
I feel as though I’ve hardly done any cooking this week, or indeed spent much time at home.  I asked Ollie what he wanted for Sunday night supper and he responded with just “no red meat!”  I think we have both overindulged a bit on the good stuff.  Being a little lazy on Sunday morning, the only shop I made it out to before Sunday closing was the local branch of a supermarket.  These places almost always have some kind of smoked fish, so I was able to cobble something half decent together for dinner.  (Didn’t go shopping this week either, natch).  This recipe is from The Kitchen Diaries and is a genius combination of smoky fish, meaty beans, cream and grain mustard.  I added a little more mustard than the recipe suggested, but didn’t regret it.  Half-pissed on wine and watching TV on a Sunday night, this dish is perfection.  The recipe can be found online here.

Burger League: Flat Iron

The Flat Iron Burger

 The Restaurant:  Flat Iron, 17 Beak Street, London W1F 9RW

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Gemma and Claire Ordered:  The Flat Iron Burger, dripping-cooked chips, roast aubergine, red wine.

The Scores:

Going to a no-reservations restaurant in Soho for lunch is always a bit of a gamble.  You could roll a six, walk straight to a table and be in for a fantastic lunch; similarly, you could roll a one, be turned away and end up at the local branch of Pizza Express.  Taking lunch early usually ups the odds of getting in somewhere good, but even this is risky – today we turned up at Pitt Cue at 12.15pm, a mere 15 minutes after opening, to be told there was a 25 minute wait.  Fine if you have the luxury of a leisurely day, impossible if you are on your lunch hour.  Luckily, there were several good restaurants around the corner and, being still early, we managed to nab a table at Flat Iron on Beak Street.

Ironically, Flat Iron is famous for the length of its queues.  Once word got out that there was a restaurant selling excellent £10 steaks, hungry Londoners could barely contain their excitement.  Once when I walked past, the queue had extended well past Carnaby Street.  Their main thing is the steak:  the name of the restaurant, in fact, comes from the only cut they sell:  the flat iron cut which, I found out after some online digging, is cut from the featherblade.  Occasionally, they add a lunch special burger to their menu, which is also £10 and made from the flat iron meat, and which drew us in from the street.  According to our waitress it had been voted ‘the best burger in London’, although she didn’t say by whom.

The burger was actually really, really good.  I found out this afternoon that the patties are deep-fried in beef fat, which certainly explains a lot.  Having never had a burger made with flat iron meat before, I had nothing to compare it to, but this meat was incredibly flavoursome.  The patty had the slightly rough texture of a homemade burger rather than the ubiquitous perfectly-round patties found in lesser quality restaurants.  It was perfectly pink in the middle and dark and crispy on the outside.  The burger comes with bernaise sauce and finely chopped shallot as standard and, controversially, comes without cheese.  Cheese is usually a must for both Claire and myself on all burgers, but the buttery richness of the bernaise sauce means that you don’t really miss it.  Even a thin slice of slappy cheese would be overkill.

Roasted aubergine, dripping-fried chips

The best part was the side dishes.  Claire, having been here before, was the expert and suggested we order both the dripping-fried chips and the roasted aubergine.  The chips require little more description than that they are fried in dripping – if, like me, this is your bag, you will be in heaven – light and crispy and soft in the middle.  The roasted aubergine was like a little dish of aubergine parmigiana with just the right amount of cooking.  Did I mention that we had a carafe of red wine too?  A bargain at £11 and very, very good.  It would have been rude not to.

About Burger League

Three Good Cafes Near BBC Broadcasting House

Trying to find a moment of peace in an ordinary working London week is like trying to find a two-bedroom flat in Zone 2 for less than £1,000 per month.  You know it exists because other people have it, but it just doesn’t seem to happen for you.  Non-city dwellers find it difficult to understand the way we Londoners rush from place to place, walking faster than many can run and trying  to squeeze on to already packed tubes when another one will be along in two minutes, but it’s just because we have so much to do.  When we do finally arrive home for the evening, there is no guarantee of peace as due to the astronomical property prices, we’re all living on top of each other.  Last night my next door neighbour came home a little worse for wear and dropped his keys on the mat four times before he finally got them into the lock.  Cursing creatively each time.

This week, trying to make it to the weekend has involved an obstacle course of a full working week, two blogger events, an impromptu pub crawl with old friends and a Band of Bakers meeting.  I’ve been to almost every corner of the city and have the blisters to prove it.  Even my precious night in last night involved budget planning, wedding planning and who knows what else.  Eating dinner in front of my laptop is becoming a habit.  Friday has never felt so good.

One thing that I have been thankful for this week is the abundance of good cafes close to my office.  It’s only when you’ve worked in an obscure part of London you realise the beauty of the West End and its many eateries.  When you’re too tired to make breakfast, need a mid-morning pick-me-up or simply want to have coffee with a friend, there they are.  So this may not be useful to many of you who do not work in this lovely little part of London, but here are some cafes close to BBC New Broadcasting House that will always save the day when you’re having a tough week:

Attendant, Foley Street
This was my main discovery this week, so it warrants two blog posts.  I had often been curious about the little cafe in the Victorian converted toilet and, this week, I found out just how good it was.  It was their first birthday on Tuesday, so I popped along to have a flat white and little salted caramel brownie and enter their raffle (which, sadly, I didn’t win).  The following day, with a bit of a headache caused by necking amaretto sours in The Palmerston, I popped in again for breakfast.  It’s a great little place and, one you get over the idea of drinking coffee in a cleaned-up urinal, one you will keep wanting to come back to.  They use Caravan coffee and have a small but perfectly formed range of pastries, cakes and sandwiches.  Plus the staff are bloody lovely.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, Great Titchfield Street
There are few people who work around here that have not been to the Scandinavian kitchen and, in recent years, it has become something of a Fitzrovia institution.  Often they have a board outside offering ‘free hugs’, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a nice change from the general soup/sandwich lunch options in the many chain cafes on Oxford Street and Regent Street – they do a lunch deal of three or five items that you can select to make up your own smoregsboard.  On my last visit I opted for egg on rye, a smoked salmon wrap and a pickled cabbage salad.  Their coffee is good and their cinnamon buns pretty damn excellent.

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Kaffeine, Great Titchfield Street
This antipodean-style cafe is one of the best-known coffee shops in London and is famous for the quality of their coffee and the experience of their baristas.  They use Square Mile beans and have a delicious range of breakfasts and sandwiches which, admittedly, are a little on the expensive side.  It is a local favourite and is always packed out around breakfast and lunch.  If you get the chance, try the Anzac Biscuits for a taste of down under.

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MyChocolate Workshop

I have sadly come to the realisation that there is not, nor ever will be, a glittering career as a chocolatier ahead of me.  For one, it’s tricky stuff.  You only have to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off to see how quickly making ganache or tempering chocolate can turn into a car crash.  Use a chocolate with too low cocoa solids, you end up with a ganache that won’t. bloody. set., or use large amounts of the extra dark stuff and you might end up with something so insomnia-inducing that it leaves you wired for days.  Like most people, I absolutely love chocolate in all its forms, so when the opportunity to learn more about it arose, I jumped at the chance, hoping that I might become somebody who effortlessly turns out beautiful confectionery without ruining their clothes and kitchen worktops in the process.  Not quite,  but they tried.

I was invited to take part in a truffle-making session with MyChocolate, a company that organises chocolate-making workshops for groups.  Run by chocolatier Hannah Saxton, the school employs a number of staff and teachers who seek to deliver a range of events for corporate teams, hen parties, stag parties and birthdays; all around the process of making and tasting chocolate, as well as forays into the worlds of cupcakes and cocktails.  They operate events out of venues in London, Brighton and Manchester, but have recently developed a mobile workshop, so can put on classes in other parts of the country when needed.

This class was run from their main kitchen in central London, close to Farringdon station.  Once we were seated in groups at large tables full of chocolate-making paraphernalia, had out aprons on and a glass of prosecco in hand, we were ready to begin.

The first part of the course focuses around learning to understand and taste chocolate.  The first task was to blind taste two pieces of chocolate and decide which is the good-quality organic stuff, and which was cheap supermarket chocolate.  Everybody in the class guessed correctly, but I was surprised to see that several of my fellow bloggers preferred the cheaper chocolate to the good stuff.  I myself am partial to the odd bar of Dairy Milk, but it really was no contest.  We were then given three pieces of chocolate with varying percentages of cocoa solids to taste.  The amount of cocoa solids in chocolate gives it many of its characteristics, including how quickly it will set when made into a ganache, which is the basis for truffles.


The traditional method of making truffles is to make a ganache by heating cream to scorching point, removing it from the heat and stirring in chopped chocolate until smooth.  This is then set in the fridge for several hours until firm and spoonfuls of ganache scooped out and rolled into balls.  As the workshops lack the luxury of such time, ganache is made by pouring cold cream into melted chocolate and rapidly stirring until it sets.  Charlotte, our teacher for the evening, showed us how to do this before demonstrating a method of piping out the soft ganache on to parchment and letting them set in their shapes.  If you don’t want to end up with completely brown hands, a la the rolling method, this could be for you.  Once set, the truffles are dipped into bowls of melted milk or dark chocolate and either rolled in cocoa powder or decorated.

Unfortunately, my chocolate-making skills were still not of a high standard, and I still managed to end up with more on my face and in my hair than I had hoped, but my technique improved somewhat under Charlotte’s guidance.  The truffles I made were, let’s face it, never going to be of the kind you might find in a little Belgian-chocolate shop, but they looked like less of a mess than I feared they may, even after I went crazy with the freeze-dried raspberries.  Several hours later, drinking G&Ts in The Actress, they tasted rather good.

My Chocolate, Unit B1 Hatton Square Business Centre, 16-16a Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ  @MyChocolateUK

I was invited to review MyChocolate

Attendant Cafe, Fitzrovia

I have been often curious about a little cafe behind my office that was once an underground public toilet.  Today was their first birthday, which seemed like a great opportunity to satisfy that curiosity by meeting my friend Jon there for coffee.

The former toilet that houses Attendant Cafe was apparently built in around 1890 and fell derelict in the 1960s before being converted last year.  The cafe’s owners have stayed true to its origins by keeping a number of the original features.  As you walk through the doors and down into the depths of Foley Street, you are greeted with a wall of graffiti, an amusing nod to how most public spaces are often treated.  The walls inside are lined with the archetypal white tiles you might expect from a public convenience and one of the main seating areas is a row of converted Victorian urinals complete with a (hopefully) decorative flush.

Sadly a lunch meeting prevented me from trying any of their delicious sandwiches, but I did manage a sneaky miniature salted caramel brownie (a little bargain at £1), which had the right amount of salt and sweetness.  The coffee is Caravan, which I am already a huge fan of, and the flat whites expertly made.  Being a mere three minute stroll from my office, it is very likely that this will become a regular spot.

Attendant Cafe, 27a Foley Street, LondonW1W 6DY.  @Attendantcafe

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The Underground Cookery School

For those of us stuck in the office this week, half term makes the London commute a little bit more pleasant.  With many parents on annual leave, the trains are near-empty and, best of all, there are no noisy schoolchildren threatening to upset the equilibrium of those of us who are, ahem, shamefully nursing a Tuesday morning hangover.  My copy of Time Out, my headache and I were grateful of the quiet time.

The reason for said hangover, and the excuse for almost putting on odd shoes this morning, was an evening of cookery and wine at The Underground Cookery School with some fellow food bloggers.

The Underground Cookery School was established in 2003 and, under the tutelage of chef Matt Kemp and his team, aims to teach groups the art of cooking.  It is located just a short walk away from London’s Old Street in a capacious underground kitchen and dining area.  These groups are generally corporate team building events, hen and stag parties or birthday parties, with moderate cookery knowledge and an interest in food, who want to learn more of the complex kitchen skills.  The groups arrive to drinks and canapés before they start preparing the main elements of a three-course meal.  The food is then finished by Matt’s team and the group is invited to gather at the long wooden dining table to share what they have cooked. With more wine, obvs.

We arrived, were handed an apron and a name badge and were ushered into a large kitchen where the champagne was waiting. Good start.  Some bloggers more punctual than I were already de-bearding the mussels for the starter over in the corner – a process I usually try to avoid if possible.  We were told to pull out the little ropey tendrils that poke out from the cracks in the shells and scrape off any tough white barnacles with a knife.  This was more laborious than it looked and was promptly abandoned in favour of eating the canapes:  chicken skewers with a lime-chilli dip, lamb and caraway sausage rolls and vegetarian arancini.

We were then faced with the task of jointing half a chicken for the main course.  A slightly dangerous task for somebody who was already on their third glass of fizz – luckily I had done this many, many times before for my all-time favourite cold-weather dish, Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings.  Luckily, the knives at The Underground Cookery School are far superior to those I have at home, so I managed not to make too much of a hash of it.  A bit of rolling-pin bashing, filling piping and rolling later, we all had nice neat ballotines ready to be poached.


And on to dessert.  And to one of my favourites: tarte tatin.  Unfortunately, caramel and I are never the best of friends; I have ruined pans, had near-breakdowns and burnt myself quite severely in the quest for the perfect caramel cage to sit atop a dessert.  It seems that some people are adept at flinging molten sugar over the handle of a wooden spoon and some are not, so I stayed away from the caramel-making to instead roll out some little circles of puff pastry.  Once the caramel made, the apple slices arranged and the puff pastry fitted on top, the little tarte tatins were whisked away to the ovens, and we were ushered to the table to prepare to eat.



The Starter:  Moules Marinière

One of my fellow cooks claimed to eat mussels three or four times a week when in season.  Although I’m not quite such a frequent eater, I do love a good moules dish.  In fact, I am still eagerly awaiting the opening of the takeaway at Bonnie Gull’s so that I can have moules marinière at my desk.   The recipe for this moules marinière is very similar to my own recipe, with the mussels cooked simply in a sauce of white wine, onions, bay and thyme.  The mussels were well cooked and delicious, and the addition of warm bread to soak up the sauce, most welcomed.

The Main Course:  Ballotine of Chicken with Leeks and Savoy Cabbage

I’m not ever really one for stuffed chicken as I find it can get a little dry, however this was very moist and tasty.  The chicken was wrapped in a savoy cabbage leaf and oozed a filling of creamed leeks and smoky bacon.  My only gripe is that my portion came with a piece of skin inside the ballotine, however that was quite easily removed.

The Dessert:  Apple Tarte Tatin

There was nothing really to fault on this: crisp apple, beautiful caramel and flaky pastry.  And they topped the tart with a quinnelle of vanilla ice cream, which made the whole thing go down way too quickly.  I could have easily polished off six of these.


If you are looking for an event with a difference and are keen to polish up your kitchen prowess, The Underground Cookery School is definitely something to consider.  The involvement in the preparation of the three-course meal is enough that you learn new skills, but not so in-depth that you end up slaving over a hot stove all evening.  If you have any kitchen training or are self-taught to a higher level, there may not be much for you to learn, but you will have fun nonetheless. 

The Underground Cookery School, 201-203 City Road, London EC1V 1JN.

I was invited to review The Underground Cookery School.

Mint Cream Chocolate Biscuits

Mint cream chocolate biscuits

Mint cream chocolate biscuits

Sometimes I feel that we have the tendency to get over-sentimental about baked goods.  In the past few years, there has been a trend for nostalgia in food blogs and some cookbooks, and we all seem to be delving into the past for ideas.  My own food blog is no exception and I have, in the past, written about the comfort of making my late Nan’s tea loaf, and the memory of baking scones with her as a child.  There has always been a link between food and our personal histories; the food we ate with our families, what they served up at school, the dishes we despised and the treats we relished; but are we starting to overdo it a little?

Last week, I watched Jamie Oliver, in an act of patriotism, try to revive the Colchester Pudding, an old Essex dessert that had fallen out of favour.  Of course, he succeeded, even after feeding tapioca pudding to skeptical Essex theme-park-goers, and several caterers agreed to reinstate it to their menus.  A little victory for history, you may think, but actually, like many old puddings named after British towns and cities, the Colchester Pudding has no real historical significance other than that it was simply named after Colchester.  Oliver did a rather good job on making it palatable, but it made me think that some puddings that were lost in the past should perhaps stay in the past.  The Winchester Pudding, for example, consists of bread layered with sugar and suet, and no amount of re-working (and believe me, I’ve tried) has yielded anything that anybody I know would choose for dessert over a chocolate fondant or panna cotta, for example.  Winchester is close to where I grew up, so I thought reviving it might be fun. This is still a work in progress.

Biscuits seem to be the baked goods that we get the most nostalgic about.  I noticed that when reading blogs to research recipes, most came with a lovely rose-tinted story about biscuits in childhood.  The little pieces of shortbread that hung on the Christmas tree, or the Jammy Dodgers arranged on a doily at Grandma’s house.  It seems that we really do associate them with our pasts.  This was confirmed in spectacular fashion in Nigel Slater’s Great British Biscuit, an hour-long programme convincing us of the importance of biscuits in our history, national identity and every day life.  Just as I thought it couldn’t get any more full-on, they brought in Stuart Payne, a man so obsessed with and passionate about biscuits (and who refers to them as ‘friends’) that you begin to realise that you know very little at all about these treats.  The number of holes in a Bourbon, for example?  Stuart knows this.  We all enjoyed biscuits, but did they really shape our lives? I guess that’s for you to decide.

Of course, if you order a biscuit in America, you will get something resembling a scone, but that’s another story.

In recent years, I make far fewer biscuits than I used to.  These days, I only ever seem to make them when people come for tea, and then only really a few varieties.  I used to make batches and batches of chocolate chip cookies, but found that I ate too many and suffered all of the consequences that went along with that, popping waistbands et cetera, so stopped. 

A year or so ago, I came up with the idea that I would bake everything from Dan Lepard‘s baking bible Short and Sweet and came across a few very good biscuit recipes.  My favourite was a sandwich of two bittersweet chocolate cookies and a slick of sweet peppermint cream.  Sandwich biscuits are always the most decadent of all, which is why the custard creams and bourbon creams disappeared from the tin far quicker than the plain biscuits.  These don’t disappoint and are always a favourite with visitors.  They look a little like Oreos and, despite some unkind remarks made by my boyfriend about ‘toothpaste’, the mint filling is always a pleasant surprise.  For a while I have toyed with the idea of making a version with an orange cream filling, perhaps adding orange zest and cointreau to the buttercream mixture and a little cinnamon to the biscuits.

The recipe, by Dan Lepard, can be found here.