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Cookie Shot Glasses and More – Dominique Ansel Bakery, London

Address: 17-21 Elizabeth St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9RP

For: Original creations like the Cronut, the DKA, Cookie Shot Glasses…and so much more

Average Price Range: £6

As soon as you walk into Dominique Ansel, you’re immediately met by a beautiful array of brightly coloured pastries, hand crafted to perfection.

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There are also simpler delights like large pain au chocolats, croissants, brownies and cookies the size of your face.

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Dan and I decided to get the classics – the cookie shotglass which you, if you want it filled with Tahitian-Vanilla Infused Milk, have to order in at the bakery. Among the other specialties that need to be prepared at the bakery are its Frozen S’mores and its banana paella – both of which I have yet to try.

We also tried the classic ‘DKA’: Like a cronut (a cross between a croissant and a doughnut) without any of the filling – I would prefer this over a cronut simply because it’s not as sweet.

Finally, we ordered the ‘Paris – London’: A twist on a Paris Brest. It’s a choux pastry ring filled with piped droplets of earl grey mousse, lemon curd and blackberry ganache.

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Ok, here is where I get a little bit critical. Firstly, the service was definitely left wanting. It was slow, and I couldn’t help but feel like the servers were less than capable. Our waitress spilt the milk that she was meant to pour into my shotglass and made my cookie soggy, making it almost impossible for the milk to stay within its cookie confines.

The cookie shotglass was also warm and the milk, tepid, which is not very smart at all because chocolate lining in the cup melted. The chocolate lining is supposed to be a solid barrier to keep the milk in so obviously once that melts…milk seeps out. For something that I paid good money for (£4.80), I was not very impressed at all.

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At least our waiter got Dan’s cup right so I could get a decent shot haha.

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As you can see the milk has already started to seep out.

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All the same, it did taste great.

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The ‘Paris-London’ was a highlight for me. I thought it was creative, looked quirky and fun and tasted great. No disappointments here. A very well, handcrafted pastry.

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The ‘DKA’…ahhh…what to say? It was exactly what I had hoped it would be. Buttery, flakey, coated in crunchy crystallised sugar – a real treat. Not very healthy at all but delicious.

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Ok. My last piece of advice: stick to the pastries and cakes. Dominique Ansel does not specialise in savoury foods and they simply aren’t worth it. Firstly…consommé is supposed to be clear. Ask Heston..ask Ramsey…ask, well…anyone who watches Masterchef. This beef consommé was cloudy, salty and lacked depth of flavour.

Anyhow, I would like to round off this review on a slightly more positive note. While there were many aspects of my experience at Dominique Ansel that were not entirely great, I would still come back if I found myself with the time to do so. What Dominique Ansel excels in are its pastries and cakes. Its canelés are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and whisk you straight off to Bordeaux in the South of France.

My suggestion: take away whatever you want to try and enjoy at home. It’s not really worth paying more to sit in given the lacklustre service available and the already expensive prices. Mix in vanilla extract and maple syrup into your milk at home? You can buy the cookie shot glasses without milk in boxes of five so that’s always an option. All in all, I’d still recommend Dominique Ansel to a friend for a pastry or a cake though. Well, once in a while anyways after my wallet has had some time to replenish itself.

Steamed Banana Puddings with Caramel Sauce – Recipe

This steamed sponge pudding is served at one of my favourite Thai restaurants in Hong Kong and is a soft, light take on a banana loaf. I  order it every time I eat there and recently, I thought to myself, why not bring the party home and try making them? Well, here is my take on steamed banana puddings with caramel sauce.

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Makes 9-10 puddings

For the puddings

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas (spotty/black/gross on the outside)
  • 110g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 90g castor sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • pinch of salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius
  2. Mash the banana with a fork until it’s mushy
  3. Cream together (beat) the butter and sugar
  4. Add in one egg at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well in between to make sure all ingredients are incorporated
  5. Add the vanilla extract.
  6. Add the bananas, flour, baking powder and salt
  7. Fold to combine
  8. Butter the insides of nine ramekins (or more or less depending on how big these are)
  9. Boil some water in a kettle
  10. Create a water bath for the ramekins by placing them in a baking tray and filling that tray up half of the way with the boiling water
  11. Cover the tops of the ramekins loosely with a sheet of foil
  12. Carefully place the water bath and ramekins into the oven
  13. Steam for forty minutes

For the Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

  • 150g brown sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 140ml single cream

Method

  1. Simmer the brown sugar, cream and butter until it becomes a thick rich sauce

 

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The traditional recipe tops off the pudding with caramel sauce, honeycomb vanilla ice cream and honeycomb. However, I don’t like honeycomb so I didn’t want to make an entire batch just for a few puddings and end up having to throw the rest of it away. I also wasn’t in the mood for ice cream but by all means, go ahead and top these puddings however you like! I topped mine off with momofuku cookie crumbs instead which worked a treat and added that needed crunch element. My recipe for which can be found here.

I hope that you try this much loved pudding. It’s a great dessert idea for when friends or family come round! If you’re looking to impress but not necessarily have to faff around with persnickety, temperamental pastries that take years to perfect, this is the perfect recipe for you!

High Tea and the Best Cakes in Durham – Tealicious, Durham

Address: 88 Elvet Bridge, Durham, DH1 3AG

For: Cake, Specialty Teas, Scones, Afternoon & High Tea

Average Price Range: £4 (for cakes/teas), £11 pp (for tea sets)

Tealicious undoubtedly has the best cakes, teas and cheese scones in Durham. In fact, it has some of the best cakes I have had at any cafe ever.You can trust my judgment as well because I’ve probably eaten my weight in cake and I’ve also baked a lot of them as well – so I know good cake when I taste it.

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Tealicious always has a great spread of cakes. If you look at the picture on top, starting from the bottom row, there is a cherry loaf, a coffee and walnut cake and a lime and blueberry sponge. On the top row, there is a lime curd & coconut cake, a chocolate cake and right at the edge of the top right corner are some fruit scones.

My friends and I decided to share a high tea set for two between three people and it was more than enough. The price was £23 which basically added up to £7.7 pp. This price leans towards the high end of the spectrum as far as tea sets in Durham go. However, considering the quality of the food and drink served, it’s a total bargain.

Our tea set included one fruit or cheese scone, our choice of two teas, two sandwiches and two cakes. We chose:

  • the cheese scone
  • the honey rooibas tea and the vanilla early grey tea (free refills of hot water)
  • the pepper & hoummus sandwich and the regional cheese & chutney sandwich
  • the lime & coconut cake and the lime & blueberry cake

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The cakes were beautifully moist and packed with flavour. I personally loved the blueberry & lime cake because the zest was just enough to lift the buttery flavour of the sponge but not overpower it. The coconut lime cake was a bit of a hit and miss for my friends and me. I wasn’t a fan of the lime curd at all. I thought it was too tangy and tasted a bit too much like a green jelly baby but my friend absolutely loved it. That cake is down to personal preference I guess. Still, I could appreciate that the sponge was well baked and moist.

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I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a cheese sandwich so much. There was a thick slice of creamy, regional cheese in each sandwich triangle, making each bite indulgently delightful. They do also offer brown bread for the sandwiches but it just so happened that they ran out of that when we got there.

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The teas were absolutely lovely. The aromas of both were wonderfully fragrant and the tastes of both, delicate, yet robust enough to be distinct from each other. I personally adore the vanilla earl grey tea and would go back just for that.

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Add a splash of milk and perfecto.

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The ambiance is perfect for a little gathering of friends. I ten out of ten would recommend.

-a

Momofuku Inspired Milk Cookie Recipe

I celebrated the submission of a 4000 word legal philosophy essay by baking a mountain of these Momofuku inspired cookies. I halved the amount of ingredients from the original recipe because the original made close to 20 cookies. However, they were gone within 2 and a half days so if you live with cookie monsters like I do, then go ahead and double the amount of ingredients below.

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Let me talk ingredients for a second.

Always use good quality butter. It makes your product much creamier and it enhances the flavour of it significantly as well.

As for the clear vanilla extract, using it is very individual to Christina Tosi (the genius behind Momofuku Milk Bar). It’s her stamp of creativity. In comparison to the brown vanilla extract you get in stores, the clear version is an imitation flavouring that gives you that boxed cake or cookie mix flavour. It tastes like childhood and nostalgia. However, if you cannot get your hands on this, just use the normal brown stuff. It works great too.

Finally, the milk powder. This is my first time baking with it and I love it. This powder really adds depth of flavour to my cookies. I wouldn’t be able to achieve the same creamy milky taste without this.

Makes 8-10 Medium/Large Cookies

Ingredients

  • 110g butter
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 8g honey
  • 1 tsp clear vanilla extract
  • 185g plain/all purpose flour
  • 25g non-fat milk powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 20g rainbow sprinkles (preferably ones that don’t bleed colour like jimmies/strands)

Method

  1. Make sure you get your butter out from the fridge at least an hour beore bakingg so that it softens to room temperature
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together for 7-10 minutes. This is a classic Momofuku technique and ensures the the cookies are as fluffy as they can possibly be
  3. Add in the egg, honey and clear vanilla extract
  4. Beat this mixture until all the components are well incorporated
  5. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, milk powder and salt to the butter mixture
  6. Add in the rainbow sprinkles (You can skip this step if you don’t have any)
  7. Fold in all the dry ingredients until the cookie dough comes together
  8. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour. Minimum. I cannot stress the importance of this step enough. Because Momofuku recipes have a lot of butter and because they have been aerated so much from the sustained creaming of the butter and sugar, the dough needs time to firm up. If you were to bake them straight away, the cookies wouldn’t hold their shape at all and just melt away into a formless blob
  9. After 1 hour, preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius
  10. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and using a medium sized ice cream scoop, a 1/3 cup scoop or simply your good estimation skills, scoop out even dollops of cookie dough onto your tray. These cookies spread and need to be at least 3 inches (ideally 4 inches) apart
  11. Bake for about 8 minutes or until golden round the edges
  12. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then enjoy

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The texture of these cookies should be crunchy on the outside but chewy on the inside and look a little like a Snickerdoodle. Here is a picture of my friend enjoying cookies on our College lawn that lovely spring afternoon.

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The original recipe called for Momofuku Birthday Crumb mix to be added to the mixture but I thought that was a little too cumbersome and made very little, if not negligible difference to the end product so I removed it from this recipe.

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Anyway, I hope you try this recipe because it’s seriously so so good. I’ve gotten so many compliments for them. I’m definitely going to make them again and I think this time I might add some chocolate chunks as well. But, free will is for all so if you do decide not to make these, you can simply live vicariously through me and through alycakesblog. Hehe.

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-a

For the Best Rustic Pizzas – Pizza East, London

Address: 56 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ

For: Pizza

Average Price Range:  £11 – £13

Previously, I trekked all the way down to London (figuratively because I took the train)  for an assessment centre in my never-ending search for the ever elusive training contract.

To some, Liverpool Street Station is a gateway to new destinations or to Shoreditch or Brick Lane. To me, it is the gravity that centres the map of Law Firms that spread out from the connecting street and roads.  Dread, trepidation…hope? Yeah, this station invokes in me a myriad of emotions.

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However, while my mind is predominantly preoccupied by my concern for my legal career, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t admit that I wasn’t also excited for my chosen post-interview meal. I had picked out a pizza place that I had been meaning to try for ages.

I hardly eat pizzas when I’m eating out because I associate the dish with grease and lazy movie nights. However, there’s something about a five page legal translation task that really ticks of a craving for carbs within me.

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This gem of a pizzeria is opposite Box Park on Shoreditch High Street. You can’t miss it.

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I walked right right as the place was about to open for lunch and I was kindly served some water by extremely helpful and friendly (and Italian?) staff, who offered me water while I waited for a table. Seriously though, their waiters can’t all be Italian, right? Or maybe the accent is a job requirement? Only joking.

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Pizza East’s menu boasted classic ingredients with simple flavour combinations. I ordered the ‘aubergine, tomato, scamorza (a type of smoked cheese), pesto pizza’ which was a crowd favourite according to my waiter.

By then I was starving and I couldn’t be more excited. After a short wait of about around 10 minutes, my pizza was served almost straight from the woodfire oven.

The crust was cooked to perfection – not too doughey-like or crispy in texture. As for the toppings…a more perfect combination could not have graced my taste buds. Despite each ingredient packing their own distinct flavour, none overpowered the other and all formed the perfect gastronomic harmony.

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This place filled up extremely fast and I can totally understand why.

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I mean, I did finish the entire pizza by myself. Whoops.

So worth it though. I really, really cannot recommend this place enough. EVEN to those, who like me, would argue that money is better spent elsewhere on some other dish. Trust me. You’ll change your mind once you’ve tried Pizza East.

-a

Brunch, Please – Flat White Kitchen, Durham

Address: 40 Saddler St, Durham DH1 3NU

For: Brunch

Average Price Range:  £5 – £10

Ah, Flat White Kitchen – just as magnificent a sight to behold as the UNESCO World Heritage cathedral and castle overlooking its humble pale walls.

Beware the queues. Brunch is not an occasion here, it is a way of life and one can find themselves queuing for close or up to an hour during peak sessions. Worth it? Still, yes.

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Once you step in, you are immediately met by a fantastic spread of cakes, desserts and sandwich items.

Keeping up with gentrification and health fads, one can find almost anything to fit their dietary requirements. There are vegan date oat slices, decadent brownies, a fabulous lemon polenta loaf cake and crowd favourites white chocolate blondie and rocky road.

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Mm. Cakes. Croissants.

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As you are brought to your places by always smiley and polite staff, you’ll  find yourself seated at a very insta-worthy wooden bench or table with paint buckets or pots of cute foliage.

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They like their foliage at Flat White.

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Then you’re asked if you would like a drink. Personally? I love their Mochas, Flat Whites and Chai Lattes. That’s the one in front. The one with whipped cream is a White Hot Chocolate which my boyfriend adores. They also have a Vanilla Chai Latte but stick with the normal Chai Latte – it’s definitely sweet enough already!

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Food. Where do I even start? The classics that I would recommend are:

  • Baked Eggs (seasonal – right now it’s truffle mushroom)
  • Ricotta Pancakes with fresh fruit
  • Avocado Toast with Feta and Chilli

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The scrambled eggs are extremely rich and creamy and very filling. The smoked salmon also makes the entire dish a bit too salty for my liking but the portion is generous, it’s great for value and still packed with some great flavour.

Below are the beloved classics: Chorizo and tomato baked eggs on the top and the ricotta pancakes with fresh fruit, maple syrup and honeycomb butter below.

These baked eggs were the real deal – perfectly runny egg yolks that burst with the prick of a fork; to be scooped up by a spoon or by a slice of warm slice of toasted sourdough. Note however, that the style of baked eggs do change and while this particular dish is no longer available, they do currently serve a truffle mushroom version. I personally think the world would be a much better place without mushrooms but hey, if they’re your thing, go ahead. My friends do like them.

As for the ricotta pancakes, I could probably ramble on and on about how amazing these are. Instead, I just have to point out – I almost never fail to get these pancakes. If for example I went to Flat White Kitchen ten times a year, I probably got these pancakes eight out of those ten times. These pancakes have a perfectly browned outer layer that encases the softest, fluffiest textures of pancake mixture and ricotta. Topping that are my favourite fruits and honeycomb butter which I try not to eat but if you’ve ordered these, you might as well go all out. I usually ask for the maple syrup on the side as they are very generous with it but you can never really go wrong with maple syrup can you?

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Just for your reference, these are how large the portions are relative to our heads. You CAN pay 2 quid less for a half stack but that is definitely not worth it. Just pack the extras if you really can’t finish it! You’ll thank me later.

The blueberry pancakes on the top in the picture below are also a crowd favourite. They’re buttermilk blueberry pancakes with a blueberry compote but I’m not such a big fan of cooked fruit.

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I’d almost say the 3 hour train ride from London up here would be worth it just for these pancakes. For less than £9, it’s really the bargain of the century. Pancakes in London are half this size or half as good or more expensive.

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Just look at them. Whether you’re celebrating the submission of a 4,000 word essay or meeting up with a friend or happy, sad or angry, Flat White Kitchen is always the answer. These pancakes, are always the answer.

-a

Hacksaw Ridge – A Reflection

If you had asked me “what is your favourite film at this current point in time” this time last week, I would have answered you with “La La Land” in a heartbeat. After today? No longer so.

“I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.”

This film is a contemplation on the fundamental struggle of what it is like to have a belief and to carry out that belief despite every obstacle the secular world retaliates with. Set against the backdrop of the ghastly and brutal Battle of Okinawa, this film so graphically depicts outwardly, what could be argued is a reflection of the inner battles that Christians and people of other faiths face. The difference, however, is that Desmond Doss overcomes all trials as victor. Repeatedly.

Doss was no less human than any of us. His past was riddled with mistakes and regrets but they shaped him for the better where they would have broken others. A lesson of true repentance is seen in him consistently setting aside the pain and suffering that the secular world throws at him however: his own personal fear of not being able to protect himself and even a life with Dorothy, whom he undoubtedly cared so much for. Even the accusation that his stubbornness manifested pride and not true belief did not ultimately sway him because his belief in God’s words and commandments were just that strong. Doss didn’t know how to live with himself other than  according to the word of God. Internalising this, I don’t see how I could ever have done otherwise myself either.

They called Doss “coward”, “weak” for all they saw was a “skinny kid”. But just as Jesus said:

Blessed are the meek:for they shall inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5

There is a power in meekness, something I have always struggled to understand, but I saw it in Hacksaw – in Desmond Doss.

“Please Lord, help me get one more.”

Doss repeated this line over and over again as he relentlessly ran into the jaws of death at Hacksaw to save as many people as one man could possibly save. He did not go back into the fire expecting to come out – nor did he wish or expect to die. It was simply not what was at the forefront of his mind. His calling to save people came first; death or life was merely a byproduct of this priority. Throughout the montages of him running back and forth from ridge to battlefield, avoiding explosions, gunfire, Japanese patrols, I kept wishing that he would just stop, get off the ridge and back to safety. He had done enough, saved enough.

But what was enough? He saved the lives of 75 men – men who were left for dead. Try and internalise this number for as second. 75 men could fill up single bedroom apartment. How many family members were spared the pain? How many children born because of this act of bravery? Suddenly 75 is a much larger number than one might have initially contemplated.

When Doss saved people, he saw past race and nationality. This had nothing to do with his love for his country and his comrades. No one could doubt that he was any less patriotic than the most loyal American soldier. But when he looked to save the wounded,  he saw past the battle, even past the world war. He saw people: made of flesh and blood: all, God’s creation and children. One man’s life should have been worth nor should be worth more than another’s.

“I got the energy and the passion to serve as a medic, right in the middle with the other guys. No less danger, just… while everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it. With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me to wanna put a little bit of it back together.”

Desmond Doss saved all those lives without ever carrying a firearm. We all say that we would like the world to be a better place. Most people want world peace, a world without borders or hatred or racism or sexism but when faced of violence almost everyone would retaliate with violence. It is a vicious cycle and as if Doss couldn’t possibly do more than he already has, he leaves the world with a clear message: stand up for what you believe and do not let anything sway you. Not death, not isolation, not fear of punishment. In saving lives, Doss fights violence not with violence, but with the strongest of wills to salvage whatever fragments are left of the shattered tapestry that is humanity during its lowest point.

“Most of these men don’t believe the same way you do, but they believe so much in how much you believe.”

Peace and love is never irrelevant. It is not to be dismissed in times that governments often deem to be “states of exception”. In a world where love can be so easily swayed and stifled, what is left?

Men and women inevitably look, whether in admiration or curiosity, to those who believe in God and higher causes because what they view is a person who sees past the fleetingness that is a human life grounded in only earthly things and if they cannot believe it for himself, they will believe in those that do.

I want to be like Doss not for any type of recognition or glory. I simply want to follow the path of Jesus with as much strength and courage as he was able to do and sometimes, all you need is a really great film to nudge you in the right direction.