Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tea at the Cemlyn Tea Shop, Harlech

After exploring Harlech Castle in Wales on our mini holiday, we had a lovely wander around Harlech town and discovered the Cemlyn Tea Shop. I was in my element - they served about 30 different types of tea. It's not often you find a tea shop that has anything other than English Breakfast and Earl Grey, but this wonderful tea shop even had some I'd not heard of.

We sat in the window seat to people watch out on to the street, but you can also sit at the back with views over the bay.

The Cemlyn Tea Shop proudly shows off its certificates from The Tea Guild, having won the Award of Excellence every year since 2003.

Steve enjoyed a Keemun tea, which was smokey, while I had a medium-bodied Nilgiri Thiashola (I hadn't heard of either!). We also had very light and fluffy scones with strawberry jam (we have to eat scones, wherever we go). You can buy packets of tea there too, and they also sell teapots. A must visit to anyone who loves tea! Visit the Cemlyn Tea Shop website for more info!

Harlech Castle

Monday, 23 September 2013

Cake at The Ugly House

On our mini holiday to Wales, we stumbled upon The Ugly House - Ty Hyll - in Capel Curig, near Betws-Y-Coed. We were on our way back from the National Slate Museum and saw it on the drive up - the name caught our eye, and we couldn't see why it was so-called - it looked so cute.

The history of the house is fascinating, mainly because no one is entirely sure how The Ugly House came to be. It is thought it was partly built overnight, with the fire burning in the morning, meaning it belonged to the builder. But the house is made with such massive boulders that it must have been the most basic shell, as the whole building must have taken an age to build.

The name might have come from it being made from the 'ugly' leftover stones that weren't good enough to build the nearby walls, or perhaps due to the name of the nearby river, the Llugwy. Or, as it was thought to have been used by robbers and thieves - 'ugly' people. But the house itself is full of charm, small but perfectly formed, now with a five-acre garden and wood at the back.

The house is owned and managed by the Snowdonia Society, which is doing a great job of taking care of such an interesting piece of history that no one can really explain.

The cafe in The Ugly House was run by a friendly and knowledgeable lady, happy to chat to a couple of travellers. Steve had Lapsong tea, and I had Earl Grey, both to wash down massive slices of coffee cake. The slices were huge! "You have to go away knowing you had some" said the lady. It served us well after a day of walking and exploring.

To find out more, visit The Ugly House website, or the Snowdonia Society website.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Squidgy chocolate brownies

One of my favourite, most popular, and most frequent things to bake is chocolate brownies. I love them, Steve loves them, and everyone else who tries them loves them. These chocolate brownies are rich and squidgy, with an excellent crack on the top, plenty of moistness, and real chocolateyness.

I added white chocolate chunks to this batch, to make them a bit special. I made them for our recent day out at Rockingham, to watch the British Touring Car Championship, with Steve, his brother, and my brother. They went down a treat! I love to people watch, and I was amazed by the amount of burgers, pizzas, hot dogs, and other meat-related things were being scoffed at the event - at 9am! Nothing could beat these brownies.

200g dark chocolate - I use a 75% cocoa bar
175g butter
325g caster sugar
130g plain flour
3 eggs, beaten
100g white chocolate (I used good ol' Milkybar)

Preheat the oven to 170C (160C fan oven).
Melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water until all melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Add the chocolate and butter mix to the sugar, and mix, but don't overwork.
Sift in the flour and stir, but again don't overwork.
Add the beaten eggs and mix, but be careful - if you mix for too long, it will start to look a bit weird and may separate a bit. Be gentle.
Chop the white chocolate into chunks - I found half a square to be a good size chunk - any smaller and they melt a little while being cooked, while half a chunk stays chunky. Stir into the mix.
Pour into a prepared baking tray. Bake for about 35 minutes. The top needs to feel hard and crisp, but don't use a skewer, as it will seem undone - but you want it to be squidgy.

Allow to cool in the tin. To serve, slice into squares, and dust with icing sugar.

For Christmas, I'm planning to try orange-flavoured chocolate with dried cranberries :) 

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Stamford Clandestine Cake Club's harvest festival

Who needs the Great British Bake Off when you could be at the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club? 

Combine harvesters in the fields, children going back to school, the time is nigh for mists and mellow fruitfulness... And in the spirit of all those wonderful autumnal themes, the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club met at The Bull and Swan at Burghley for a 'Cracking crop of cakes'. We missed the third episode of GBBO to meet up, but I'm pretty sure we all watched it on iPlayer when we got home afterwards. 

The pub provided us with our most sumptuous surroundings to date. We holed up in their dining room, on a spectacular T-shaped table, with gorgeous cutlery, cake stand and presentation boards, candles, and the most magnificent cake knives we've ever seen. Decorations in the room alluded to it being the base for an historical drinking society – how appropriate!

The staff at The Bull and Swan looked after us brilliantly, and we may even have a couple of new recruits... They certainly appreciated the plate of cake we provided them with, served on the biggest plate I have ever seen – apparently it is what they serve their Sunday roast on, which means I'm definitely going there for Sunday lunch soon.  

We considered ordering the evening with a Mad-Hatter type change of seats every five minutes, but we decided this was too much exercise when so much cake was to be eaten. There were 16 cakes to be tried and tested: 

Marrow cake - Mel
Tractor cake - Jon (with the registration plate Crap1, it was renamed the Craptor)
Pear, honey, and walnut cake - Vic L
Chunky apple cake - Kelly F
Plum and cardamom cake, without the cardamom - Judith 
Carrot cake - Anthea
Courgette cake - Vicky R 
Apple upside-down cake - Louise 
Parsnip cake - Kerry 
Apple and ginger wine cake - Kelly M 
Apple and pecan cake - Kat 
Berry crumble cake - Jennifer
Sticky lemon cake - Danielle 
Apple cake - Sarah
Apple cake - Amanda 

Well done to the two bakers, Amanda and Sarah, who managed to bake a cake with only a few hours' notice, due to a couple of cancellations. Judith's cake was a star of the night, despite not being able to find ground cardamom in the local shops. Congratulations to Jon, who graduated from long-term guest and taster to fully fledged baker with his tractor cake. Kudos to me for decorating my cake with some corn, hastily nabbed out of a local farmer's field (thanks, Mr Farmer). 

A couple of quotes from the evening included "This would be good with a cup of tea" and "I've got a sharper knife if you need it" - you have to love the self-deprecation of bakers and their cakes. 

It was good to have a couple of new faces, plus a couple who haven't been able to make a few meetings. We're enjoying how each month the different venues change the dynamics of the group, meaning no two cake clubs are the same. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Spiced pumpkin cake with orange icing

The theme for the latest Stamford Clandestine Cake Club was 'Cracking crop of cakes' - our version of a harvest festival, for which I made a spiced pumpkin ring cake with orange icing. 

I knew a lot of the members of cake club would be using apple, berries, plum, and other fruits, so I thought I'd go left-field with pumpkin. I love pumpkin and squash and was quite exciting at this bake. 

I did it as a ring cake, so it was nice and easy to slice, and would look good with the orange icing (colour and flavour). It was easy to make, reasonably, and looked pretty good once I threw some heads of corn at it for decoration. 

150g margarine
300g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
340g self-raising flour
225g pumpkin puree (I used leftover pumpkin flesh from last year's Hallowe'en, which had been frozen, and then I sieved to lose some of the water)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice

For the icing:
Icing sugar
1/2 orange juiced
Orange food colouring 

Beat the sugar until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until pale and fluffy - it won't be too fluffy due to the amounts. 
Add the eggs a little at a time, with a bit of flour if necessary to stop it splitting. 
Sift in the flour and spices. 
Fold in the pumpkin gently. 
Pour into a prepared ring tin. 
Bake for about 45 minutes at 180C (160C fan). 

Make the icing once the cake is cooled, adding as much food colouring as you wish. I went for a deep sherbert-type colour. I would have gone brighter, except I had no time to go to the proper shop for the colouring and had to buy some rubbish from Tesco, which needed so much adding in order to get the right colour that I was worried about the quantities. 

My icing technique needed a bit of refinement, admittedly. But on the whole I achieved the look I was aiming for. 

I would add more spices next time. The pumpkin flavour was subtle and fragrant, and the orange icing was a bit special. One cake club member asked if I had used custard powder. I didn't, I promise. 

Dodgy icing technique.