Thursday, 16 August 2012

Whimsy and the City!

Dearest Readers, 
I have just returned from a city break in NYC! Whilst you are all aware my poison is (generally speaking) cake, I felt that I simply must take a break whilst on holiday and enter the alcoholic equivalent of baking: cocktails. As I explained to one exceptionally polite bartender, making a cocktail is rather like baking a cake:- if the ingredients are not in full proportion then the cake/drink won't taste quite right. Seeing as NYC is the ultimate cocktail-capital I felt it my duty to bring you tales of three secret cocktail bars where the drinks are up there with the finest of cakes...

1. PDT
Part of the thrill of the NYC cocktail scene is that each bar seems to come with either a secret entrance, a hidden door, or it's own speciality that enables it to stand out from the crowd. These are not your average British drinking spots, nor are they treated as such by the patrons. PDT (full name 'Please Don't Tell')  is situated on the effortlessly hip St Mark's Place in Manhattan's Lower East Side. (I intend to LIVE in the Lower East Side one day.) To enter PDT you must first pick up the courage to go into a slightly sunken 'gourmet' hot dog shop called 'Crif Dogs':

Once inside 'Crif Dogs', the fun begins! On your left as you enter the restaurant you will see a wooden phone booth...step inside and all is revealed. A hand-written note invites you to dial PDT on the phone and then you await your reception from an immaculately groomed gentleman in a perfect three piece suit with slicked down, side-parted hair. I couldn't possibly tell you any more than that or it would ruin the surprise on entry, but  - traveller's tip ahoy - it really is advisable to book a table (by phoning from 3pm on the day you wish to go) otherwise you have to join the 'walk in' queue from 6pm and most people leave disappointed...
I really do believe all bars should i) be hidden ii) have smashed-mirror toilets and iii) come with a strict etiquette. I might like them all more were this the case. Now to discuss the drinks! I had a Tompkins Square  named after the local park and SIBF had a Paddington Bear named after, ummm, Paddington Bear. The Tompkins Square was PDT's take on a Cherry Manhattan and utterly delicious - dry and crisp with the most succulent maraschino cherries ever to be tasted. I was instantly transported to a finer and more glamorous time. SIBF's Paddington was made with real marmalade in the drink and absinthe and citrus juices mixed with rum. He drank it under PDT's very own Paddington and enjoyed it immensely! We did stay for another drink and the bartender was more than happy to experiment on the theme, so I had my own bespoke version of the Tompkins Square which was extra dry with added absinthe (!). Suffice to say the East Village looked even more like the streets were paved with gold when we emerged from our speakeasy...

If PDT is a super-cool underground speakeasy with slightly tongue-in-cheek humour, then Death & Co is the darker older brother who listens to Joy Division in his never-lightened room and has slightly sinister friends. Whilst Death & Co (situated on East 6th Street) does not have a secret entrance, it does not exactly advertise itself either. There are no signs, just a hipster doorman glued to his iphone and a dark oak panelled doorway. Inside it is like the darkened glistening gleaming den of your deepestly dark dreams. The bar is seemingly lit by candlelight and it takes a good twenty minutes for your eyes to adjust fully to the Hadean land in which you find yourself. Once they do, you can savour the sleek bar and gaze in awe as the mixologists craft their drinks. 
SIBF and I had been reliably informed that Death & Co's "thing" was "ice". We weren't sure exactly what this meant until our cocktails arrived. I ordered the Jekyll & Hyde - a short whiskey drink featuring CINNAMON BARK SYRUP, yes, cinnamon bark syrup!! - and it tasted of Victorian libraries. Smokey, sweet and slightly dangerous. But in terms of ice, to preserve the intensity of the drink it came served in an old-fashioned glass with one huge ice cube in it - I mean the ice cube was the size of the glass - meaning the ice dissolved less quickly and so the drink stayed the same until the last drop was drunk. Sublime.

3. La Esquina
Finally, dear Readers, should you find yourselves in NYC on a Saturday night in need of a more 'weekendish' secret bar, then please allow me to alert you to La Esquina between Kenmare and Lafayette in Soho.
This may look like a Taco take out (and if the reviews are to be believed, the tacos are pretty good!) but deep under the streets in the subterranean bowels of New York City is a hidden TEQUILA BAR!! To enter this fun-tastic bar-disco (which was playing, bizarrely, mostly British indie tunes when we were there) you must go into the Taco stall and be sussed out by the man guarding an intriguing looking door in the wall. If you pass the test (I'm not sure exactly what the test is, but we were there with a real New Yorker, director extraordinaire, and he sorted it out for us) you are ushered through the doorway, down a long staircase, across several winding corridors and through a KITCHEN where they make the Tacos for upstairs until finally you come out in a lively Tequila bar with booths, bar stools and an area for dancing. Having never tasted tequila before, being at La Esquina was a 'learning experience', as one likes to say, but I was told on good authority that they have the best selection of Tequila going so if you like Tequila get yourself down to La Esquina!!
This is me post-tequila leaving La Esquina. I'll spare you the image of me and the Taco chef. 
And so, dear readers, there you have my three step guide to NYC bar life. I would do PDT on Monday, Death & Co on Thursday and La Esquina on Saturday for the ultimate in prohibition era speakeasy drinking week!
But remember, shhhhh, tell no-one!
Cocktails and canapes,
Whimsy x

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hazelnut and Cinnamon Meringues

Dear Readers THANK YOU for the phenomenal reading response to TSWCS 3.0! I do hope you all enjoyed the pictures and will come to The Jester Festival in 2013!

Now that summer has officially reached Britain, why not make some meringues - the oven temperature is low enough that it won't over-heat your house and meringues make the perfect long summer eve desert. 

These meringues are a little bit different - they're slightly more grown-up after dinner with a coffee and/or amaretto than the pistachio and vanilla ones, but well worth trying...

...the recipe comes from Ottolenghi and it is a fabulous one as the meringues turn out just as good as the  famous ones for sale in their shop. The perfect sticky and gooey meringue treat. 
The recipe follows the Swiss meringue method which involves melting 260g caster sugar and 140g dark brown muscavado sugar in 200g free range organic egg whites in a bain marie for about ten minutes. Please be warned that it looks pretty revolting (as you can see in this picture) but I promise you the end result is worth the moderate ugliness of the early stages. You should be pre-heating the oven to 110 degrees by the way!
 Once this is done, you can begin the whisking. As per my previous post on meringues do not believe the instruction that it is not possible to get high volume meringues without a free standing whisk! Mine are made using a very lo-fi hand held electric option and always come out ticketty-boo. After a minute of whisking, the mixture will look like the above pic.
 After four mins it should begin to change colour and look like the one above.
 By the time you have been whisking for eight minutes, it should be cool, super-glossy, a beautiful pale colour and hold it's shape as per the image below. (NB these photos were taken by me whilst I was in the process of whisking hence the not-so-brilliant quality. It was a challenging photographic experiment!)
 At this point, it all gets super-fun as you sprinkle half a teaspoon of cinnamon over the mix and then VERY gently fold it in with a rubber spatula.
 Have 30g unskinned hazelnuts (roast them slightly and then rub the skins off in a tea-towel to get the best flavour) roughly chopped and ready and waiting along with two large baking trays lined with baking paper. Use two large metal spoons to scoop up a generous dollop of the meringue mix and then transfer to the baking tray before sprinkling over the hazelnuts. This is the most fun part of meringue-making - enjoy swirling the mixture onto the tray!
 They should look something like this as they go into the oven. Ensure they are well spaced out as they do puff up to a surprising extent.
Bake for between one and a quarter to two hours. It is hard to tell if they're done and it's important NOT to over-bake them so that you still have that chewy sticky gooey inner yumminess, but it IS very important that they are completely dry on the underneath and that should let you know when they're done. So I would say check after one and a quarter hours, but expect them to take about fifteen minutes longer after that. 
Et voila! Delicious Hazelnut and cinnamon meringues pretty and tasty enough to grace the cake stands of Whimsy! We completely under-priced our meringyues based on how expensive free range organic eggs cost but I think the people appreciated the Whimsenomical bargain they were getting and, indeed, these meringues were one of the first sell out products at TSWCS 3.0!
I am so excited about my next post featuring WHIMSY branded shortbread - you're going to love it!
Sugar and spacedust,
Whimsy x

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Silver Whimsy Cake Stall 3.0

Dear Readers,
I have kept you waiting with baited breath for too-too long. And now it is finally time to reveal images of The Silver Whimsy Cake Stall 3.0. Yes! We had a full re-boot this year and TSWCS was the sparkliest bestest incarnation thus far!
 The main key to our success was the addition of the help (not just of strangers this year) of baker extraordinaire Miss F. The two of us together made Whimsy a force to be glittered with and both stall and customers went away with extra sparkle as a result.
 Pictured above are Miss F's epicurean white chocolate and raspberry slices and pictured below is the ubiquitous Silver Whimsy record player. (People have tried to purchase the record player EVERY single year, but it is amazing how cheap the people deem the price of a battery-operated Japanese import portable record player!!) Also, note the edible creations in the pretty polyphene - a new idea for 2012; Whimsy Cakes to take away and eat later!
 This image shows another of Miss F's inventions - Space Cakes! Popular with grown ups and children alike, these fairy cakes come to life in your mouth with the special ingredient of popping candy and a lollipop to eat as a post-cake snack!
 We had the most wonderful variety of cakes on offer and the people commented over and over again about how amazing it was to have such choice! I started making a Victoria Sponge but after the cakes were made, I felt the need to do something a little more interesting and came up with the Raspberry Cream Dream Cake (pictured below). Oh Readers, 'twas so delicious! Raspberry coloured and flavoured buttercream on the inside with freshly whipped cream with raspberries spun through it on the outside and vanilla sponge in the middle!
It was a wonderful day at the Jester Festival, West Hampstead's greatest local gathering, and we had an amazing, glittery day! The people love TSWCS and TSWCS loves the people! Roll on 2013!!
Recipes to follow,
Silver Whimsy x

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Pistachio and Vanilla Meringues

As preparations for TSWCS 3.0 continue apace, I thought I would give you a (not so) quick and relatively simple meringue recipe! I think there are many myths surrounding meringues that are created to prevent people from trying to make their own. The first is that you need a freestanding electric whisk / mixer to get real volume. Whilst I'm sure the Kitchens of Whimsy would be forever changed if I had a 'Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer' I do find that a regular (in fact rather small) hand-held electric whisk creates adequate fluffy meringue volume from where I'm standing...

 Take 600g caster sugar and heat it in the oven at 200 degrees until the sugar is starting to dissolve slightly at the edges and your kitchen smells of candy floss (8-10 mins).
 Put 300g egg whites (preferably ones that have been left in a loosely covered bowl overnight as this will help create volume, whatever you do don;t use them straight out of the fridge!!) in a meticulously clean (I always pour boiling water over the bowl and then allow it to cool before whisking) metal bowl.
 Whip the egg whites until they begin to fluff up and at this point VERY slowly and carefully add the sugar about a fifth at a time whipping constantly until the sugar has been completely absorbed before adding more. The mixture will become very thick and begin turning into the most beautiful silky wedding-dress-white substance. When this happens KEEP GOING as it is likely you still haven't been whisking for long enough. You need to have been going for about 8-10 mins in all.
 In the last 30 seconds or so, add around a tablespoon of vanilla essence. Leave the meringue mix and take out a tray of pistachio nuts that you have chopped very finely before you began the whole process (remember mise-en-place is key!). Using two large silver spoons, scoop up a generous portion of meringue and put it in the pistachios. Pick it up with the other spoon and place on a baking paper-lined baking tray.
 Doing this is quite can always put the meringues on the tray and sprinkle the nuts on top if you need to, but the result isn;t quite as good...
 These dollops of creamy sugary delight need to cook for about two hours at a very low temperature - 100 degrees.
Best served with freshly whipped cream and some slightly sharp raspberries to cut through all that sugar!

Silver Whimsy x

Monday, 25 June 2012

Strawberry-iced Fairy Cakes

 Dear Readers,
As preparations for The Silver Whimsy Cake Stall 3.0 hot up, I thought I would tempt you with some super-easy to make fairy cakes...
125 g unsalted butter
125 g caster sugar
125 g self raising flour
2 free range organic eggs
A teaspoon of vanilla essence and 2 tablespoons of organic milk....
Then it's time for the icing...

Making the cakes...
Cream the butter and sugar together, beat in the eggs one at a time adding a spoonful of flour if the mixture begins to curdle, beat in the vanilla, sieve in the self raising flour and then fold in with a large metal spoon. Spoon into the pretty cake cases and bake in the oven for 15 mins at 170 fan assisted...
I've spent a long time trying to figure out the recipe for the best butter icing... I feel quite strongly that it is a 3:1 ratio (there's one for the mathematicians amongst you!) of icing sugar to butter. I would suggest that you sieve the icing sugar at least twice to help you beat it in, and make sure the butter has been left out all day. I think  the trick is to use summer fruits to flavour and naturally colour the icing. Once you have added your icing sugar ad butter to a large bowl, press the summer fruits into the mix and beat it all together. You may need to add a drop of milk as well, depending on how many fruits you are willing to add. 
Then for the fun bit... decorating! 

 I went for a pink heart theme with these little cakes and sprinkled over some trademark SW glitter.

 Styled in vintage tea cups and ice cream sundae cones I think they look rather pretty. 
Do come along on Sunday to try out some Silver Whimsy cakes for yourself! 
 Silver Whimsy x 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

'Issy's Milky Way'

Dear Readers,
Just a quick post. Building up to TSWCS 3.0 is a thirsty business and, in a deviation from the norm, I felt inclined to go in search of a milkshake. (Once, at university, I formed the Midnight Milkshake Association where we would search for the magical milkshake diner where the light never went out. But I digress.)
Welcome to 'Issy's Milky Way'  featuring everything you could possibly need for a recreation of a 1950s summer date!
 What better way to refresh than with a delicious, thick shake made with Marine Ices ice cream? Especially when 'Issy's Milky Way' is situated in the Camden Passage where you can spend a few minutes before or after enjoying the vintage treats and antiquities that grace the quaint street. You can also look out for Noel Fielding who we we saw walking past during our teatime treat!
 It is out of the ordinary for a 'Confessions' blog to feature a non-coffee related beverage, but with a menu like this one, how could I resist? I didn't try the cakes, but there were some promising looking brownies, and the coffees being drunk next to us looked suitably old skool.

 Back to baking now though,  TSWCS 3.0 preparations never end!
Magic and milkshakes,
Whimsy x
PS Check out my silver glitter nail polish in the pic above! Fashion Joy!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Lemon Drizzle Cake - a firm family favourite

When I was little, my grand parents lived abroad and the most magical thing was getting to see them and eating my Grandma's lemon drizzle cake - it was (and still is, really) my favourite cake. She would always make hers round and the smell of it, just out of the oven, permeating her flat along with the general aroma of chicken soup is a Proustian memory. 

Years and years later, I use her cake tins (thrust upon me when I went round with a lemon drizzle loaf for her), but I make mine in a loaf shape and follow Nigella's recipe (Grandma never did give me hers). 

The smell of it baking is the same though, and always brings back those memories. 

You will need:
Pre-heated oven at 180 degrees / 170 degrees fan assisted / gas mark 4
125 g unsalted butter (pref organic)
175g fair trade caster suagr
2 large free range organic eggs
the zest of one lemon (pref unwaxed or you're eating chemicals)
175g self raising flour
4 tablespoons of milk
The juice of 1 and a half lemons
100g icing sugar
You will also need a buttered and lined cake tin. I know it's a hassle but it is essential and worth the effort. Some people love lining cake tins. I do not. 
 First you need to cream the sugar and butter together. Top tip; have a packet of butter that you leave out of the fridge ready for baking. This way creaming butter and sugar will be ten million ties easier. (As regular readers know, I do everything by hand as I don't have a magimix so thinking in advance is essential!)
 Then, add the eggs one at a time, beating in well, along with the lemon zest. Be generous on the lemon zest front and adapt according to the size of your lemon - if your cake mixture does not smell lemony you must add more!

Next, sift the flour into the mixture and fold in with a large metal spoon. When 'The Kitchener' opened in NW6, I went and bought two WONDERFULLY large Alice-esque metal spoons that truly changed my baking. Up until that point I had somehow been managing to fold in using tablespoons?! I actually don't know how my cakes ever rose...

Once the flour has been thoroughly (but gently) folded in, add the milk and fold in til it's soft dropping consistency.

You should have an extremely smooth, creamy coloured mixture.
 Pop the cake in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 40-45 mins. I normally check at 40 as it turns very quickly. It should be well risen and a cake skewer will come out clean when it's done.
 Ten mins before the cooking time is up, begin to make the syrup. (Aside: My friend Sonja bought me this amazing lemon squeezer when she discovered I squeezed oranges by pushing them through a sieve...!!!! This, along with the large silver metal spoons, has made making a lemon drizzle cake a billion times more straightforward!)
 Squeeze one and a half lemons and add to a small pan along with 100g icing sugar. Heat very very gently until the sugar dissolves. Don't stir it, but you can swizzle the cake skewer across the bottom of the pan if it needs a little help to get going...
 Now for the fun bit! As soon as the cake is out of the oven, pierce it all over with the cake skewer. Make sure you cover all angles as the syrup needs to cover the whole cake.
 Pur the syrup into the holes and watch the surface of the cake begin to sheen. Leave to cool completely in the tin (which should be on a wire cooling tray) before taking out. Your kitchen will be smelling heavenly by this point.
 Once cooled you can, if you like, ice it with a simple icing sugar and lemon glaze. It doesn't really need this, but I suppose it makes it look more 'finished' if you like and helps it to last longer. This cake will last for a very long time though - it stays moist because of the lemon drizzle - and you can change the lemons to oranges or whatever takes your fancy if you happen to have extra citrus fruit in the house.
A quintessential British summertime afternoon tea treat. Yum! 
Fondest fancies, 
Silver Whimsy x 
PS Coming to a Jester Festival near you soon!