April 15, 2014

Birthday Celebrations part 2 - Presents and crystallised rose petal cake!

As if a day in Bath wasn't wonderful enough, my birthday cake and presents made me feel even luckier. I woke up to beautifully wrapped presents, a bouquet of roses and a hamper of treats that I couldn't wait to rummage through. 
What would a grown up treasure trove contain I wonder? Perhaps chocolate truffles, macaroons, edible glitter and the most darling tea set? I felt like a child when I began rummaging in my treat hamper for all the delicious treats! 
My mum packed a treat hamper with my favourite things. To indulge my sweet tooth there were strawberry and raspberry chocolate truffles, white chocolate coated raspberries, strawberry shortbread, a rainbow of macaroons, Charbonnel et Walker hot chocolate and salted caramel truffles. As I drink a great deal of tea the basket also contained my favourites: strawberry and raspberry infusion tea and my old, reliable earl grey. This was accompanied by a little tea pot and milk pourer adorned with the prettiest lilac ribbon - so lovely! To aid with my baking I found some pink and white edible glitter hidden at the bottom and so that I can make my favourite cocktail, the French Martini, there was a bottle of Chambord raspberry liqueur! It was the most dreamy hamper I've ever seen :)Little details only a mother would think of!I absolutely loved unwrapping these new additions to my little library. The thing about recipe books is that they keep on giving. I will be able to turn to these in several years time and bake with my Mum and my birthday in mind. Each book is definitely worth a consideration, but heres some brief reviews of them to entice you a little more :)
One of the great things about blogging some time after acquiring a recipe book, is that I can discuss the recipes inside with some knowledge and experience. My first Lily Vanilli treat was not something I made, but instead something that was sold at Lily Vanilli’s bakery on Columbia Road Flower market. It was just heavenly and I knew straight away Lily’s accompanying book was going to hold a wealth of golden recipes!

You may have already heard of Sweet Tooth, as I’ve mentioned it serveral times on this blog. I honestly consider it to be one of the most reliable recipe books around. If I have to bake something at the last minute and I haven’t been able to test a new recipe, I always turn to Sweet Tooth. And so far, it’s never failed me. One of the big game changers for me was when I read the science behind baking and what goes on in the oven. Sweet Tooth dedicates several pages to this vital knowledge and it’s definitely helped me to understand, prepare and problem solve my bakes. The recipes are also wonderfully unique and it’s incredibly refereshing to see such unusual ingredients being embraced. Sweet Tooth is a must have for the modern baker and anyone who’s looking to impress and surprise with a variety of magical creations.

Did you know I like cake? I do. I really, really do. My friends know there are two types of windows that distract me, the ones displaying mannequins adorned in pure elegance, and the others involve pretty patisserie cakes all lined up, glistening chocolate shimmering with gold leaf and berries upon berries balancing on Chantilly cream. As you can imagine, I don’t get very far in London.

Despite this book being written for 2012, it is still very relevant now. The book is made up of sections; Cupcakes & Bakery, Coffee & Cake, Afternoon Tea, Wedding Cakes and Chocolates and Sweets. It reviews each devilishly delicious place, along with pricing, tea supplier and what the venues signature cake is (for your checklist purposes, obviously) and there are even exclusive recipes from some venues. As far I’m concerned Great Cake Places is up there with the tube map, it's a necessity. 

It’s always reassuring to know a recipe has been well and truly tested, and best of all selected as the recipe for a particular cake. That’s why we treasure our Grandma’s recipes so much, because they have been approved by a fellow, everyday baker. 

The Clandestine Cake Club was founded by Lynn Hill in 2010 and has since become a popular bake-and-share event that is held all over the country. Following its success, Lynn published this cookbook compiling 120 recipes that members have contributed to the Clandestine Cake Club and have gone down a treat with fellow bakers! These golden gems of recipes range from the classic Coffee Cake (which is DIVINE), Carrot Cake and Strawberry Shortcake to the more creative Pina Colada Cake, Blue Velvet Cake and Sweet Potato & Pecan Cake. Recipes are divided into Classic Cakes, Victorian Cakes, Fruity Cakes, Global Cakes, Zesty Cakes, Chocolatey Cakes, Celebration Cakes and Creative cakes. Sounds dreamy doesn't it?

What I particularly love about this cookbook is that all the 120 recipes are for cakes. No tarts, no cupcakes and no brownies. Pages upon pages entirely devoted to velvety slices of pure indulgence!

Entertaining at Home by Rachel Allen
Hosting a dinner party can be incredibly stressful. Taking into consideration dietary preferences, portion sizes, providing a well balanced variety of dishes and making sure each part complements the rest. And thats before you've even starting cooking! 'Entertaining at Home' is a truly stunning book, with mouth watering photos and a charming layout it is a pleasure to read through. There are sections on brunches and lunches, casual meals, eating outdoors, canapes and small bites, small celebrations (2-4 people), dinner parties (4-8 people), larger gathering (8-12 people) and the buffet party. Accompanied by menu plans the declious recipes are a godsend for hosts! Whether it's cooking for a romantic dinner or hosting a christmas buffet for extended family - Entertaining at Home has got it covered.

My favourite recipes include the Raspberry and Amaretto Tart, Baked Beetroot Risotto with Parmesan Crisps, Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart, Buckwheat Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Crème fraîche and Caviar and Winter Leaf Salad with Pomegranate, Apple and Walnuts. I've spotted a few for Easter hosting too!

Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights by Sophie Dahl
Sophie Dahl's personal collection of recipes are both indulgent and healthy. Written and photographed beautifully it is hard to put this book down. It is also refreshingly down to earth, with unpretentious recipes and personal notes regarding diet and weight issues. Sophie Dahl shows a real passion for good food that is delicious, healthy and easy to make, making this book a kitchen staple. There are also a great deal of vegetarian recipes too.  
Along with my books and hamper I also received some beautiful pearl earrings, vintage postcards as seen below, glass decor for my bedroom and the most elegent cocktail glasses that I have made good use of. There was just so much prettiness to unwrap!
My birthday cake was made by my fabulous Grandma. Her cakes have always been the best and her house is never short of a scrumptious baked treat or two. I was blown away when I saw this beautiful creation when I came back from Bath. The sugared rose petals and floral bunting looked so pretty!
It didn't last long...
A few days later mother and I decided to use some of the treats from my hamper, my new tea set and the last remaining slices of cake to create our own afternoon tea at home. I tried out some of the sandwich fillings that we ate at the Jane Austen Regency Tea Rooms along with some personal favourites such as chorizo and melted cheese - amazing. Afternoon tea's are so easy to prepare and just lovely to enjoy with the girls. Mum and I have a new past time :)

April 05, 2014

My 22nd birthday - Exploring the Roman Baths and afternoon tea at the Jane Austen Regency Tea Rooms

With my birthday fast approaching, I suddenly realised I never got round to blogging about last years birthday celebrations. It was such a lovely day and despite the fact a year has lapsed, it is definitely worth sharing.

I woke up on the 12th of April to a champagne breakfast, blooming roses and beautifully wrapped presents in pastel blue and pink shades tied with white satin ribbon. As always my mum had gone to great lengths to make sure everything looked beautiful. There was also a basket full of delicious treats that sat waiting to be explored, vintage cocktail glasses in the corner and a lovely glass dish sitting elegantly on top of presents. Twenty two going on twelve, I raced through breakfast eager to unwrap all of them. There will be more about that in the next post!
I decided to spend the day in my favourite city with my mother and Grandma. Whilst I love London, it cannot compete with the elegance and stunning architecture in Bath. Situated just over an hour away from my home in Somerset, and nestled inside a valley surrounded by luscious greenery it provides me with both my city loves and West Country charms. You may recognise the golden bath stone scenery from last years post.

Our first stop was the Roman Baths. The natural hot springs that flow beneath the city have hugely influenced Bath's history and it's development. In 70 AD, the Romans built the baths as a sanctuary to bathe and socialise believing the steaming springs were the work of the gods. The imposing pillars and statues are regarded as some of the most well preserved Roman artefacts in the world. The Roman Baths houses priceless pieces of history including a gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva. It was quite surreal to imagine the baths filled with Romans 2000 years ago, engaged in vibrant conversations and relaxing with friends. Visually, the classical elegance and exquisite craftsmanship is breathtaking and the fascinating information within the museum makes the Roman Baths a must for any history or art enthusiast. 
After visiting the Roman Baths, we took a stroll around Bath, taking in the chic city vibe and admiring the whimsical cafes and restaurants that lined the streets. As we meandered are way through the city, I remained at a complete loss as to where we were going. 
I was wearing a Zara dress and coat, Office boots and a vintage silk scarf and bracelet.
When my mum and Grandma revealed that they were taking me for afternoon tea at the Jane Austen Tea Room, I was delighted. The Regency Tea Rooms are held at the Jane Austen Centre, a traditional Georgian townhouse exhibiting the memoirs of Jane Austen and her time in bath and the city's influence upon her writing. I've always had a fascination with bygone eras, especially in literature so for me this was a real treat. 

Our table was situated next to the window, allowing us to enjoy the views whilst sipping our tea.
I couldn't help but feel as though I'd travelled back in time, with classical paintings hanging on the walls and old fashioned table cloths draped over tables. The waitress was dressed in a period costume and referred to us each as 'my lady', which made the tea feel even more authentic. Nothing was ever too much trouble and the jam and cream were free flowing - something I made good use of! 

My Grandma treated us to the 'Ladies Afternoon Tea', a quintessential assortment of finger sandwiches, warm scones served with Dorset clotted cream and strawberry jam, and a loose-leaf tea of our choosing from a selection of 15. Everything was heavenly, in particular the four piccalilli and ham sandwiches which all strangely found there way onto my plate. We all chose a different pot of tea, but each of us remarked on what a flavoursome blend it was. The quality and the tea rooms efforts to use homemade, locally sourced food was evident with every mouthful. 
That evening we headed back home to a delicious buffet and more presents before I headed off out to meet friends for a night of merriment. 

A birthday should always be a day comprising of your favourite things, so the fact mine involved beautiful Bath, shopping, breathtaking history and afternoon tea, it was without a doubt a wonderful birthday indeed!