The Pastry Challenge Round-Up

This is going to be the last Pastry Challenge round-up for a while. It's something Jen and I started last year as an attempt to explore pastry a bit more. I speak for myself when I say I've not done the best in doing so, with pastry usually taking a back seat to cakes, cookies, and brownies most months.

Jen made some big changes last year one of them was moving down to Dorset to help run her parents green grocers and from what I gather she's loving it! Follow her on twitter and instagram as she shares some of the stuff she's getting up to down there!

It's hopefully not the end, we had a good run and enjoyed seeing everyone's amazing entries! There are many other blogging challenges to enter and partake in!

To keep up with weekly and monthly food challenges a few lovely bloggers started The Food Blog Diary where all these challenges are listed and updated often.

Hopefully we will be back on that list! But until then thank you to all those who have taken part in our blogger challenge and if you are ever baking with pastry please tag me in your tweets or instagram posts I will happily like and share when I can!

We had two great entries last month the first from - Pastry Workshop: Creating Sweets with Character Olguta shows us how to make the perfect Choux Pastry!

and The Lawyer's Cookbook share with us her Ham and Arugula Shortcrust Rolls! They would make lunch an event or a great picnic treat! 

My Day as a Tourist in London! #TravelexTourist

One of the best things about being an expat (expatriate) is still getting to play the tourist. I have been asked before, from fellow Americans, what there is to do in various cities around the UK. Of course the most popular being London.

Answering that question is hard there are three things that need to be taken into consideration. 1. How much time are you spending in London? 2. Do you have any specific interests? and 3. How many people and age groups?

If someone is not into art then I wouldn’t send them to the art museums, but I would point them in the direction of the science or history museum! If you have children with you I would suggest the same, who doesn’t want to see dinosaurs? London can be tailored to anyone! That’s how much stuff there is to do in London.

Travelex asked me to spend a day in London as a tourist with a budget of $150 (American dollars). On the day of exchange it equalled £114.53. Could I manage a day in London, on my own, with that budget? Let's find out!

Shakespeare’s Globe 

£15 adult entry + £6 gift shop

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is an open theatre and has mostly a summer season aka the Wonder Season which runs from April 30th - October 16th. So, I was unable to see a performance, but the exhibition is open all year long (see dates on the website). It was very informative and entertaining, my tour guide was funny and knew everything there was to know about Shakespeare and the history of the current globe theatre. For more information visit the website linked above! Before I left I picked myself up a couple of magnets with Shakespeare quotes.

Instead of going right next door to the Tate Modern, I took the tube from Blackfriars to Monument, (tube stations are named for a reason - Black Friar Pub and the Monument to the Great Fire of London are both right near the tube stations) in search of the Sky Garden. If you don't book a (free) ticket there are weekday walk-in tickets. They are available from 10am to 11:30am and from 2pm to 4:30pm and are given out on a first come first serve basis, so I wanted to get there before 2! I was early so I stopped to get coffee and cake. Also an excuse to get out of the rain!

Konditor & Cook 

(The Gherkin) - £9.45

This bakery has been on my “to visit” list for ages, because they have a cake called the curly wurly cake (nothing to do with Cadbury) that is suppose to be amazing! It was pretty amazing. Soft and dense dark chocolate cake covered in just enough vanilla frosting. Paired with a latte it was just what I needed after walking through the rain! The above cost also includes a take away fudge brownie that I shared with my partner when I got back.

The Sky Garden

Free (need ID)

The Sky Garden is a rival for the London Eye. Having been on the London Eye a few times, I would say that the Sky Garden is by far superior. There is no cost, you’re free to roam around, and there are places to relax, eat, and visit! The gardens are full of pleasant smelling vibrant green plants. Did I mention the view is amazing! You can literally see all of London, it was a cloudy day for me so I bet I could have seen further if it was a clear day! The observation deck was closed due to the rain, but I don’t think I would have wanted to go out there with it all wet and slippery…….

Tate Modern

Free + £5.50 gift shop

Is my favorite museum in London. There was a time I could walk into the Tate and tell you all about the artists and their time periods, but that time was when I was fresh out of college where I studied art. Also, the current exhibits are a lot more modern artists as in the last couple decades. Which I really enjoyed seeing and experiencing. I would gladly spend a whole day in the Tate! I bought another magnet and a couple of buttons for my girls.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Evensong - Free

There are many churches and chapels in London, but St. Paul’s is probably the most popular. It does sit on Ludgate Hill, which is the highest point in London. It has a deep rooted history in London having been built in 1708 and it still runs as a functioning church with daily services. Services which are open to the public aka who ever wants to attend. Tours are available, but I find the best way to experience St. Paul’s is through the Evensong. A beautiful choral service that is a great place to sit and relax after a day of sightseeing.

Burger & Lobster 

Dinner - £35.16

I was really hungry when I walked into Burger and Lobster! I had researched restaurants near St. Paul’s and Burger & Lobster isn’t right next door it’s near by. It’s also something I don’t have in the town I live. For £20 you can have a burger with bacon and cheese, a lobster, or a lobster roll; served with fries and a salad. Drinks and dessert not included. I had the lobster roll in a brioche bun that was delicious, I cleaned my whole plate and then had a lemon cheesecake for dessert. Although I wouldn’t have called it a cheesecake. It was more lemon mousse like with crumbs and a lemon jelly/jello like substance at the bottom. It was good; tart and refreshing after a rich meal is just want you need!

That was the end of my day, if I had been a proper tourist or a Londoner, not someone who had to get back to “reality” I would have seen a show, but I had a train to catch and if I had stayed for a show I would have missed my last train back!

The Verdict: With a jam packed day of mostly free events I still spent £71.11, with £43.42 leftover. The majority of what I spent was on food. As I mentioned before everyone’s priorities or interests are different. I find food, when exploring a city, is a must and something I’d always happily spend a little bit more on. Note that I did not include travel into my total spending. Because I traveled in I bought an all-day off-peak travel card prior to arriving in London. For tube/bus travel I highly recommend getting a hold of an Oyster Card, it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get around London.

Final Thoughts: I went to London with a vague plan and nothing pre-booked. Which is a great way to spend a day in London wondering around, however if there are things you want to do plan ahead. A lot of websites offer discounts if you book online, this may keep you to a time schedule, but will save money. I had a great day out and would love to do it again .... with all new things to see and do!

notes: In association with Travelex UK & Travelex USA  - #TravelexTourist and their connecting with your favorite bloggers campaign. All opinions are my own, the only compensation was what was put on the Multi-Currency Cash Passport card on the day. It was super easy to use and a great no stress way to convert and carry money abroad. Please see my contact/policy page for further information.

Follow me @unitedcakedom on Twitter and Instagram for more images and news about my day. There is also a short video on my YouTube Channel check it out! To find other bloggers and how they spent their day search #TravelexTourist

Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits

For me breakfast is a thing for the weekends. It’s hard to wake up and want food right away or I should say it’s hard to wake up and want to cook right away. If I had a personal chef and breakfast was waiting for me as I got out of bed then it’s be a different story. But that’s not the story and breakfast is on me.

If there is an easy way for breakfast I will take it. When I was a teenager and started driving my sister and I to school, every once in a while we’d sneak through the McDonald’s drive through for a breakfast burrito (different then the ones here in the UK) and a fruit parfait. Maybe not the best of combinations, but hey I was a teenager and food didn’t seem to “stick” like it does now.

It was or is literally a layer of yogurt, strawberries and blueberries, topped with more yogurt and granola. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Since they don’t sell them here in the UK I thought I’d make it myself. Also, it is Breakfast Week! A campaign dedicated to educating the nation and celebrating breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day! Too many people skip breakfast, myself included some days....

I really hate busy as an excuse, everyone is busy, it’s what you choose to make priority and breakfast should be a priority. How would anything get done if you didn’t have the energy to do it? I am trying to make breakfast a priority and these parfaits make a good start!

They make a great breakfast because fruit and yogurt are, depending on the choice of yogurt, good for you. Plus they can be made the night before and can keep in the fridge for 1-2 nights if properly covered and ingredients were well in date when made.

Fruit & Yogurt Parfait

makes 2 (easily doubled)

8 tablespoons of yogurt, your choice (I used Arla Skyr Icelandic Style Yogurt, Honey)
3-5 strawberries, quartered
2 handfuls or 150g blueberries
baked muesli (recipe follows)

Layer two tablespoons of yogurt in each glass/container. Then add the layer of fruit and top with two more tablespoons of yogurt and the granola! or muesli. Enjoy or wrap tightly with clingfilm and save until the following day.

baked muesli

45g muesli of your choice
20g butter, melted
1 tablespoon of honey

Heat oven to 180C. Mix the muesli and melted butter, honey together. Spread on a prepared baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Leave to cool completely before breaking up and dividing between each parfait.

notes: Shake Up Your Wake Up - all about how you can get involved with Breakfast Week! I was not asked to mention or promote this campagain, I just agree and like it! I entered this into Brilliant Breakfast linky! Aria Skyr Icelandic Style Yogurt is in no way associated with this blog post or my blog, I mention it because it is what I used. I chose it because it is low in fat and sugar, but high in protein, which can help keep hunger pains at bay. Please see my contact/policy page above for more information!

Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

Once in a while one creates something that you know will be re-created time and time again. In a book titled Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito there exists a cake titled Mom’s Olive Oil Orange Bundt. It wasn’t originally Renato’s mom’s cake, but a French neighbor who passed along the recipe.

Then they put it in their book to share with the rest of the world or the parts of the world who read their book.

I myself was sitting around one Saturday and I decided I wanted a cake. More specifically an uncomplicated cake. Nothing fancy and show-offy just a deliciously plain cake. After looking through one of my many baking books I took this book off the shelf and found Mom’s Olive Oil Orange Bundt.

It was a matter of two things that made me settle on this cake 1. I had oranges in my fridge that were looking a bit sad, plus other cakes required me to go to the store which I didn’t want to do, which bring us right to number 2. it suited my uncomplicated need. With minimum ingredients and little effort this is one of the best cakes I have ever made.

Going full circle, there is a reason this cake has been passed around from neighbor (who knows where the neighbor acquired it) to son to us, it’s that good. The passing around of the recipe is testimony enough for it, there are no other words. I hope one day my girls will call it Mom’s Olive Oil Orange Bundt with the mom in reference to myself and then they make it and pass it along too.

Olive Oil Orange Bundt 

3 cups all purpose flour (plain flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup plain buttermilk
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
confectioners' sugar (icing sugar) for dusting

Heat the oven to 350F/180C - prep the bundt pan with a little of the oil spreading around with your hand and dust lightly with flour or use a cake spray.

First mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.
Using a standing mixer (paddle attachment) beat the egg yolks until they are lighter and thicker, then slowly add the sugar, I did this one tablespoon at a time, until it’s completely combined. Add the buttermilk and olive oil and beat until combined. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla. Beat in half of the flour mixture, scrap down the sides and the bottom before beating in the rest until combined.

In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in one large spoon full of the egg whites into the batter. Gently and patiently! Continue to fold in the egg whites large spoon full by large spoon full. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the bundt pan halfway through. Use the skewer test to insure cake is baked through. Leave to cool in the pan until the bundt pan is cool enough to touch. Gently loosen the sides before placing a plate over the bundt and turn the cake out onto the plate. Leave to cool completely before sifting the icing sugar over the top! Enjoy!

notes: Cups are no longer hard to find in the UK and to keep the simplicity of the recipe I used cups! I bought my copy of Baked Explorations years ago - all opinions are my own please see my contact/policy page above for more information!

Build Your Own Sandwich by Vicki Smallwood {book review}

Some 4th Earl of Sandwich, England is considered to be the creator of a sandwich. When he was busy gambling all night long, he’d get the munchies and instruct his servants to bring him meat in between two slices of bread. That way he could continue gambling and eat; no forks and knives needed!

The idea wasn’t new, it had been around for decades, century’s probably at the time. It was just that his boys teased him enough about his favourite late night snack they dubbed it a sandwich.

When I’m making sandwiches at home I never get any more adventurous then a ham, cheese, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When I go out for food and it’s sandwich time I am more adventures with flavours and textures and such.

There is no logical reason for that and that’s why I was pretty excited about Build Your Own Sandwich: More than 6,000 sandwich combos by Vicki Smallwood.

6,000 combos you say? How is that possible you ask? Well, by literally dividing the page into four sections and listing each section as bread, topping, filling, and sauce you can random flip through the pages and come up with lots of different combos! As in the pictures below!

This is usually the part in my review where I list all the recipes I’d like to try out at home, but that’s not so easy with this book so I am going to tell you my top 3 combos that I want to try out.

My Top 3 Sandwich Combos: 

  1. Ciabatta (5); Sprouts, Spring Onions, & Chilli (50); Corned Beef & Swiss Cheese (31); Sweet & Sour Onion Spread (44) 
  2. Brioche (41); Button Mushrooms & Onions (34); Flash-fried Steak (35); Mustard Mayo & Chives (12) 
  3. Pretzel Fingers (73); Griddled Tomato Slices (62); You-Choose Cheese (107); Chorizo Jam (156) 

There are many vegetarian suggestions as well, which is always a welcome change to the sandwich! That’s me, a non-vegetarian, saying that of course! Overall this is a fun and inspirational cookbook! If you or someone you know is looking to make their lunch or late night snack, like the late Earl of Sandwich, more exciting then I couldn’t recommend this book more!

note: I was sent a copy of Build Your Own Sandwich by Vicki Smallwood to review by the publishers. No other compensation was given; all opinions and views are my own. For ore information please see my contact/policy page! My interpretation of the history of the sandwich is exactly that, my interpretation! It’s based on information I read here.

Red Devil Cupcakes {inspired by Scream Queens}

Tomorrow is the finale of Scream Queens! It’s already aired in the USA so I have avoided reading anything online to see whodunnit. It’s been hard so no spoilers please!

It’s one of the slightly annoying things about living in the UK is when a US TV show is brought over here it’s always behind schedule. It means you have to avoid any fan websites and stuff so nothing is ruined, especially in the case of a show like Scream Queens where there is a killer on the loose!

Scream Queens, if you haven’t heard of it, is a TV series about a sorority and serial killer. A serial killer who dresses as a Red Devil (the school’s mascot) and wants revenge on the sorority. It’s like any typical horror film, but better as every week we were left with clues and hints and speculation to who, what, when, and where.

Did I mention it’s full of utterly ridiculous shenanigans and cringe worthy characters, but it is funny and entertaining. I just can’t turn away from a good whodunnit story. What’s exciting is that the show has been given the go ahead for another season!

Feeling anxious to know how it ends I thought I’d try to cure the anticipation with these Red Devil Cupcakes. These devil food cupcakes with bright red vanilla frosting and devil horns are killer!

Red Devil Cupcakes 

1 cupcake box mix (makes 9 cupcakes)
40g unsalted butter, room temperature
114g icing sugar
1 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
red gel food color
black fondant, pre bought

Bake cupcakes according to box instructions.
For the frosting beat all the ingredients together in a bowl until combined. Add the food coloring until you achieve your desired shade of red.
With the black fondant/sugar paste make 18 devil horns. Place on top. Enjoy while watching the Red Devil take out sorority girls and fraternity guys one by one!

notes: This post has no association with the show, Scream Queens, in any way shape or form. Please see my contact/policy page above for more information. If you’d rather make your own cupcakes and not box mix ones why not try this recipe for chocolate cupcakes or this recipe for red velvet cupcakes! These would also work great for Halloween or dare I say Valentine's Day? Love does bring out the devil in us or something like that?

No-Bake Peanut Butter Cream Pie

January is always grey and depressing. So is November, December, and February but January always gets the grief for being so. It’s not it’s fault it has to come after the glitzy over the top month of December.

We should ease off on January. If it weren’t for us telling January it’s grey and depressing then maybe it wouldn’t be.

From now on I think we should give January an ego boost by telling it it’s great no matter how cloudy or cold it is. Because like who needs the sun all year long anyway?

And why would you need the sun to comfort you when you can make a no-bake peanut butter cream pie and eat it? One cannot not like this pie. It asks very little of you. No one likes an over assuming pie and this pie is not assuming .... assuming you like peanut butter that is.

The pie itself is great! Not too peanut buttery and the creamy filling compliments the cookie base really well!

No-Bake Peanut Butter Cream Pie 

Pie Crust 

462g (3 packages) chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies
150g unsalted butter, melted

Lightly butter a 9 inch pie dish. Blitz the chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies in a food processor until they are fine crumbs add the melted butter and mix until combined. Press down in the prepared pie dish, use a spoon and your hand to push it up the sides. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge while you get on with the filling.

Peanut Butter Cream Filling 

226g cream cheese
120g icing sugar
150g peanut butter
1 tablespoon milk
500ml double cream
231g (1/2 package) chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies

Beat the cream cheese, icing sugar, peanut butter, and milk together until smooth. In a separate bowl whisk the double cream until thick and smooth.
Gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until just combined. Spoon into the set pie crust and smooth down. 
Bash the cookies in a bag with a rolling pin or hammer whatever is to hand and sprinkle the crumbs on the top!
Leave to set for 1 hour or more as it probably should be stored in the fridge! Enjoy!

notes: Inspired by a recipe from Emeril’s New New Orleans Cooking by Emeril’s Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch. Could have possibly done with a peanut butter glaze/drizzle - for next time!

Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han {book review}

We all know soda/pop/cola doesn’t have a single good thing for you in it, but have you ever looked what was in squash/cordial? Not a lot of good stuff in there either. If it’s no added sugar it’s full of sweeteners and those aren’t any better for us.

There is another option - making your own at home! Wild Drinks and Cocktails covers tea, juice, lemonade, syrups, squash, cordial, infusions, bitters, liqueurs, wines, punches and other things.

Emily Han has been wild crafting around 10 years. She started when she moved to a big city and started looking around at was inspired by the the things that grew in and around the concrete jungle she now called home.

As she learned about all the natural grown things in and around her city she learned a lot of them helped sooth common medical ailments and not just tasted good. Naturally this book comes with a disclaimer:

“You are responsible for educating yourself about food safety and making sure you have correctly identified any wild food before picking or ingesting it.”

The author suggests taking out 3 or more books on the subject of wild crafting as well as consulting an experienced wild crafter in your local area. As different plants and such are different in other areas. There is a basic introduction to wild crafting, but as it’s important to know what you’re ingesting, so please make sure you educate yourself before proceeding with any recipes.

The introduction is very helpful and gives a useful guide to basic ingredients and kitchen tools. The second chapter covers teas, juices, and lemonades. It is the first chapter because as Emily says it’s a great way to get to know a herbs/plants flavor before turning into a soda or liqueur. Herbal Teas have been around for ages and are, as mentioned, a great way to get started.

Syrups, Squashes, and Cordials is the chapter I was most interested in reading. Syrups can transform a cocktail into something special and can be used to coat a cake before frosting. Being an American I have never really took to squash. Some of it tastes really artificial or nothing at all. I would like to attempt making my own squash and after reading this book I didn’t realise how easy it can be to make my own.

Chapter 4 is titled Oxymels, Shrubs, and Switchels and I hope I wasn’t the only thinking “What the heck are those?” Basically they are drinking vinegars. Something that apparently is very popular? Who knew? The chapter gives us a bit of history on how vinegars are made and beneficial to us. I found it very educational. They also make great cocktails!

Infused liqueurs are what I am talking about! As the author states the flavor possibilities are endless when you are infusing flavours into liqueurs. They make great mixers for cocktails. This chapter (5) not only covers infusions, but bitters and liqueurs as well. Chapter 6 continues with Wines and Punches. When infusing wines you don’t need to spend a lot, but don’t go too cheap. It won’t magically make the wine better; the infused flavor should compliment the wine.

The last chapter (7) is titled Fizzy Fermentations, basically sodas. It’s defiantly not something I ever though of making at home. With some practice I think making homemade sodas is a great idea. As I already mentioned most sodas are empty calories and do nothing good for you.

Funny story our friend gave us some Elderflower Fizz and it exploded. Which in the intro to the recipe Emily warns us that it might explode. I found it amusing, perhaps not so much to those reading this.

I have yet to try any recipes from this book, but I did find it very interesting and educational. If you are interested in wildcrafting and creating your own teas, squashes, wines, and fizz then I would recommend giving this book a read. Some of the syrups and infusions are made with things you can easily get in your grocery store or farmers market. No excuse to get started then!

Here are a few of the recipes that caught my eye and inspired me! 

Dandelion and Chicory Chai Tea
Cranberry Mors
Lemon Barley Water
Apple and Mint Syrup
Strawberry Squash
Elderflower Cordial
Rhubarb and Rose Syrup
Fire Cider
Cherry Balsamic Shrub
Raspberry Shrub
Pomegranate Molasses Switchel
Chamomile Whisky Bitters
Elderberry Elixir
Fig and Vanilla Rum
Peach and Pecan Bourbon
Cherry Bounce
Anise Hyssop and Peach Wine
Raspberry Wine
Ginger Ale
Blueberry Soda
Elderflower Fizz

I cannot tell a lie, reading this book is like reading a potions book. I totally felt like a wizard/witch studying for my potions exam!! The resources a the end of the book are for an American audience, however there are plenty of UK online resources to discover on google!

notes: Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han was sent to me by the publishers to review. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions are my own. Please see my contact/policy page for further information.

Muesli Muffins - Breakfast Time!

Breakfast is pretty much my favorite meal of the day, but it’s my least favorite to cook. It’s the whole waking up getting ready and then like dude I have to cook something I just want food ready for me to eat so I can eat and go.

These muffins are easy to throw together and take like 15 minutes to bake. So, maybe not quick quick but it’s less faff, as they say in England. (Faff is taking your time and messing about.)

With these you get up mix them up, put them in the oven and then go get dressed and other morning rituals by the time you’re down with that they are ready!

Not all muffins are created equal. I’m not going to go on about how muffins can be healthy because lets face it some muffins are just cupcakes without frosting.

These ones, however, have a mix of white and wholemeal flour and only 75g of sugar divided by the amount of muffins. It’s quite low compared to other muffins. Of course you’ll have to look at the sugar in your choice of muesli and raisins and include that too, but it’s probably going to be minimal.

Not only are they easy to make, but they taste great too. Eat them warm out of the oven or the next day with a blast in the microwave!

Muesli Muffins

50g self-raising flour
75g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g, muesli of your choice
50g sultanas
75g light muscovado sugar
100ml sunflower oil
1 egg
150ml milk

Heat the oven to 200C and line the cupcake/muffin tin with 9 paper liners.
Sift both of the flours into a mixing bowl and mix in the baking powder, muesli, sultanas, and sugar.
In a jug mix the oil, egg, and milk.
Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and gently mix until just combined.
Divide into the paper cases and bake for 15 minutes.
Serve immediately with butter and coffee!

notes: adapted from Felicity Barnum-Bobb's 100 Magnificent Muffins & Scones - currently out of print but a few used copies available on amazon.