Salon du Chocolat

As I’m sure most people who like food enough to read this blog will know, the past week has been National Chocolate Week.

While there is a very strong argument for celebrating chocolate every week of the year, I think it’s kind of ok to embrace NCW and go over the top in cocoa indulgence – and by far the best place to do so has to be Salon du Chocolat.

The three day show, which travels all over the world, came to London for the first time this year, bringing some of the finest chocolatiers from the UK and Europe together for the most fabulous showcase of chocolate you can imagine.

As a fairly MASSIVE fan of chocolate, it would have been crazy for me to pass us the opportunity to go along and see what all the fuss was about. Before arriving I was a little worried that it might not live up to it’s promise as a chocolate lover’s heaven, but thankfully I was wrong – if anything it was better.

My friend and host for the weekend prepared for the show in the best possible way – lots of cocktails the night before, coffee in the morning and skipping breakfast, meaning we had built up a pretty substantial appetite for chocolate by the time we arrived.

Waiting for us in the press room was a tray of Edd Kimber’s cocoa nib choux buns fresh from his demonstration – they were seriously delicious and something I will have to try and recreate at home. We also got a goody bag with the freebies in the picture below, also a good way to start the day!

Starting to make our way around the exhibitors was actually rather daunting, there were so many fabulous looking stands it was almost impossible to know where to start.

Literally every single company there was freely giving away samples of their products, which was great because not only did we get to eat our weight in chocolate, but without being able to try I would never have known which of the beautifully crafted and packaged chocolates were actually the best to buy, as they all looked incredible.

After going about half way around we hit the wall of chocolate fatigue, but a half hour tea break was enough to refresh, and I think we managed to make it to see pretty much everyone there.

As well as the exhibition, chocolate theatre demonstrations and chocolate tasting room, there was a display of chocolate couture – dresses made either partly or entirely of chocolate – and also a chocolate spa, complete with a bath full of chocolate ganache. I haven’t quite decided if that would be amazing or slightly disgusting, but impressive nonetheless!

Deciding what to buy was a nightmare, but in the end I settled on a fairly restrained selection including the Benoit Nihant and Lauden chocolates below, along with a few other bits and pieces.

The Benoit Nihant coffee flavour is probably the best coffee flavoured chocolate I’ve tasted, which is apparently down to the fact the coffee beans are ground with the cocoa beans, rather than being a flavour added later on. I’d never even heard of tonka beans before, but the flavour is sort of similar to vanilla, and absolutely delicious.

Lauden chocolates are generally amazing, and I’m sure the box of 12 will all be good – while at the stand we tried the lime, passionfruit and champagne flavours, all of which we loved, so I’m going to save these for when I feel like I’ve earned a special treat!

Thanks again to the lovely Sarah at Nudge PR for arranging my tickets for the show – although having now been, I’d be more than happy to pay the usual £15 a ticket to go again! I’d also be up for going to the show when it visits Brazil next year, although how much of an actual possibility that is I’m not too sure…

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Cake and Bake Show, London 2013

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When I was approached by the lovely PR team behind the Cake and Bake Show to ask if I would like a pair of press passes, it took me all of a second to fire back an email saying ‘yes!’

I’d never been before, but from what I’d heard it would be a baker’s heaven – all the sweet and savoury treats you could wish for, baking supplies and equipment to set you up for life, tonnes of expert demos, and a great opportunity for spotting the rockstars of the baking world.

Ok, so I had to get up at 4.30 in the morning, drive an hour and a quarter to get a coach to London, then get the coach back at 11.30 at night, and not arrive home until 7 in the morning, but it was SO worth it.

My brilliant friend Becky was willing to go along with my insane travel plans, so we turned up at Earls Court and were pretty pleased to see that despite the show being sold out on the Saturday there weren’t any big queues to get in.

While trying to track down the press room, we caught a glimpse of all the amazing goodies on offer – it was pretty overwhelming!

We were kind of hungry when we arrived, so took advantage of the bread, cheese and cakes in the press room. After scoffing down some food, I turned around to see none other than baking GOD Dan Lepard sat at a table. Internally, I was ridiculously excited about this, but for some reason too embarrassed to just go over and say hi – massive wasted opportunity!

The celeb spotting continued throughout the day – pretty much everyone from the current series of Great British Bake Off was there, along with previous winners John Waite and Edd Kimber, and loads of top professional chefs.

We were offered the chance to take part in one of the ‘Classrooms’ – private demonstrations for groups of around 50 people on a wide range of different topics.

Burlesque Baking with Charlotte White

‘Burlesque Baking’ immediately caught my eye, so we went to the session hosted by Charlotte White of Restoration Cake, who was absolutely fabulous – I’ve never seen anyone look quite so glamorous or wear such skyscraper heels to bake in but she totally pulls it off!

She showed us how to ice and decorate a cake in her signature vintage style, which takes inspiration from burlesque artists. Her tips were brilliant, everything from the best way to pick up the sugarpaste and lay it over the cake to piping perfect strings of pearls around the sides – I was inspired, and am going to be attempting to recreate her cake here very soon!

Charlotte White dessert table

Charlotte was also one of the bakers to create a dessert table for the show – basically a showcase of each bakers signature style. Along with the cake catwalk and the ‘wedding cake of the future’ area, this was the place for professional bakers to really show what they can do, and Becky and I were both stunned by just how creative, intricate and fabulous they all were.

Here are a few of my faves…

A lot of the food stalls at the show were giving away free samples, which combined with the food we found in the press room meant we didn’t actually have that much room for buying and eating anything on the day.

Paul A Young brownies

One of the things we just had to try though was Paul A Young’s now infamous marmite brownie, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Becky was definitely not convinced, and to be honest I still haven’t quite made up my mind – on first taste I thought the marmite was way too overpowering, but it was also strangely addictive – put half in the fridge but couldn’t resist going back for sneaky extra bites…

On Cafe macaron

I also bought some macarons from On Cafe – passionfruit and mango, cassis and my favourite, champagne pink peach, as well as a couple of water ganache truffles from The Chocolatier.

We left the Cake and Bake show feeling absolutely stuffed, but also inspired to bake – for anyone with even a slight interest in baking, I would highly recommend you go! Whether you want to stock up on equipment, gape at stunning sugarcraft, learn from the experts or just gobble up some freebies, it’s well worth a visit – I’ll certainly be going back next year!

Strawberry cheesecake cupcakes

strawberry cheesecake cupcakes

The Hummingbird Bakery is possibly THE most well known of all the American-style bakeries and cupcake shops in the UK, so when I was London for a friends birthday the other month, I decided I had to pay a visit to see what all the fuss is about.

I met up with a cake-loving friend and headed to their branch in Soho, which I believe is one of the smaller ones and I’ve heard tales of their being queues out the door, but we were lucky and managed to grab a couple of the bar style seats to eat our cake.

The choice isn’t ridiculously huge, but definitely enough to make it difficult for someone as indecisive as me. They have the ‘classic’ cupcake flavours – vanilla, chocolate, carrot, red velvet and black bottom – as well as two monthly specials which were hummingbird cake and something with bacon (so wrong). They also had I think 6 cakes and cheesecakes sold by the slice and some brownies, whoopie pies and rocky road.

I went for the red velvet as I’ve only ever tried a homemade version and wanted to see if theirs was better. My friend had the black bottom cupcake, and then we decided we’d also share a slice of chocolate cake. The cupcakes were both really, really good, and although there was no way we could finish such a rich cake afterwards we did both try it and like it a lot.

By pure coincidence, about a week after our visit to the bakery, one of my friends at work asked me if I’d like to borrow her copy of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook (the original, self titled one).

After such an awesome cake experience I had to say yes, and knew that the first recipe I tried would have to be cupcakes, the only question was which.

As this was when it was still hot and sunny, and the autumnal feeling was still to set in, I decided to use the last of the seasons strawberries and attempt these strawberry cheesecake cupcakes.

They basically consist of a vanilla sponge with juicy strawberries baked in, the classic Hummingbird cream cheese frosting, as featured on the red velvet and black bottom cupcakes above, and a sprinkling of biscuit crumbs on top.

I really loved these, the sponge is light but moist from the strawberries, the cream cheese icing is the best I’ve tried, and you get a bit of all the different tastes in each bite. The only thing I did that deviated from the recipe was only using a fraction of the amount of biscuits given for the topping – it still looks like plenty to me!

I would definitely make these again when strawberry season comes back around, and I’m looking forward to baking more from the Hummingbird book – I may even buy the more recent ones to see if they’re just as good…

Strawberry cheesecake cupcakes (adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

  • 120g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 40g butter
  • 120ml milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 12 large strawberries, chopped small

For the icing and topping:

  • 50g butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 40g digestive biscuits

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl, then beat in the butter until the mixture forms a sandy consistency – almost like making shortbread. Add the milk and vanilla and beat to combine, then add the egg and beat again. Divide the chopped strawberries between 12 large cupcake cases, spoon in the cake batter on top, and bake at 170 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean.

To make the icing, beat together the butter and icing sugar. I find this can only be done by adding the icing sugar a quarter at a time, and adding a little of the cream cheese if the mixture won’t come together. Once the butter and sugar are well creamed, at the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy, around 4-5 minutes. But as Hummingbird Bakery warn you, don’t overbeat or it will become runny!

Top each cupcake with a swirl of icing, using a spatula to smooth down the sides. Blitz the digestives in a food processor, then sprinkle on top of the cupcakes to finish.