Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Chocolate Festival, London: Bad Brownie, Batch Bakery

I know it doesn't seem like it from this blog, and if it does please don't tell me because I'll cry, but I'm kind of awkward! So when circumstances forced me to go to the Chocolate Festival alone if I wanted to go at all, I steeled myself up for some weirdness. I don't like to stand around by myself, silently buy things, and look surly.

One of the things I was most excited for was trying brownies from two of London's most recent and celebrated brownie-ers: Batch Bakery & Bad Brownie. Being me though, I wasn't able to contain myself to try similar flavors, or even easy to compare flavors from the two. At Batch Bakery I got the Peanut Butter Oreo Brownie "Bun", which was like a brownie cupcake with an Oreo inside, surrounded by peanut butter and topped with peanut butter frosting. At Bad Brownie I got the Maple & Bacon Brownie, which is apparently the second best seller.

The Oreo Brownie Bun was incredibly good - which is unsurprising considering the ingredients. There was a lot of peanut butter in the center, and the peanut butter frosting was perfectly smooth - a difficult one with peanut butter frosting, as I've often had it/made it and watched it turn out a bit grainy.

The Oreos had gone a bit softer from baking, but that just makes them integrate better into the batter. The brownie itself was well done, more cake-y than fudge-y but it made sense since it was filled with richness anyway. The chocolate flavor itself was light - but again, it's full of peanut butter & Oreos, it probably shouldn't be a heavy dark chocolate brownie on top of all that.

Batch Bakery had a lot of other interesting flavor combinations, so I'd be happy to give them another go sometime. They're mostly in markets - I actually remember seeing them in R3d Market a few times, but I had always been rushing back to the office after getting my Burger Bear, haha.

The Maple & Bacon Brownie from Bad Brownie was a risk, I accept that. However I've had some bacon & ____ sweets before that ended up just right. A special 'American Brunch' style cupcake from Hummingbird ages ago turned out super. Maple-y flavored frosting, a buttery cake & with tiny bits of soft salty, bacon, and a single crispy, salty slice of bacon on top. Worked very well. I even had a Denny's 'Baconalia' salted caramel & bacon brownie sundae, which was also nice! I have, however, also had a chocolate bar with bacon in it that tasted dreadful. It can go either way.

Unfortunately for Bad Brownie, this one was in the same camp as that nameless, random chocolate bar.

I'm absolutely sure that there other flavors are great - they looked good, and the brownie itself was tasty. All the bits that were absent bacon, that is. That bacon was dreadful, just the chewiest, jerkiest, and not even that salted. Just like crunchy, chewy bits of jerky inside a brownie. I don't know how it could've been done better, but it could have. There was also a lot of it, you certainly couldn't complain if you were a fan of jerky & chocolate. I think the problem was the chewiness and the lack of salt - the other bacon & sweet combos I've had have had quite soft bits of bacon in the batter, and maybe one crispy bit on top. Never anything half as chewy as this, though. I mean, bacon stuck in my teeth - bacon that would've been bad with eggs, just not good bacon. The maple was also pretty much a non-participant, so my guess is that real maple syrup was used to flavor it.

Good effort, but my experience as a maple loving baker myself tells me that the only way to really get a maple taste to come through, especially when paired with chocolate, is to use artificial extract.

 It's a shame, because the brownie itself was very well done - dense, fudge-y, squishy, very strong chocolate taste. Did everything right, I just wasn't a fan of the bacon element. I'd be excited to try another flavor, it was my own fault for going risky. I do wonder though, how much of this brownie's buyers are second-timers? It sounds fun & tasty, but it comes out a bit tough to love...and tough in general. I bet most people give this one a go, find out it doesn't work that well but the brownie is good, and come back to try salted caramel or something. For my readers I suggest you just skip the initial curiosity, and drown that nagging voice saying "but salty & sweet is great, right? eccentric flavor combinations like this are always worth it!" with some classic brownies.

I'll be honest, these were very tasty - but none of them beat the Paul A. Young brownie for me. I like fudgy, very densely chocolate, and nearly just goo in the middle. Brownies really are divisive - some people will probably appreciate the more cakey texture of these two, but for me it's all about the fudge and squish - as much as I can get. Still very tasty stuff, and if you see either of these sellers in markets, grab one!

I got lots of other interesting things at the Chocolate Festival to be reviewed later, so...stay tuned!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Choc Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns to me are basically just that song I had to learn on the recorder before I was allowed to graduate elementary school.

That sentence probably only made sense to about 40 percent of my readership. This video should explain it all and warm your heart at the same time. When I was in school we all had to learn that song and perform it. No explanation given as to what hot cross buns were, and why they were so cheap. So, they're not a food with a lot of cache in America, and I'm not even sure they have an association with Easter. At least in my neck of the woods, it's exclusively a song.

So no, I didn't know what they had in them and I certainly had no idea what a chocolate one would taste like. Even after living here for about 4 years I don't think I've eaten one. Not that I'm opposed to the idea, it's just not a traditional food where I come from, nor does it seem to have that compelling of a flavor. Same thing as some American foods - for instance, I certainly wouldn't be pushing a king cake on any English people. A little boring, but nostalgic.

These Choc Cross Buns by Hotel Chocolat did intrigue me, however. Limited edition? Interested. Cinnamon spiced praline and apple ganache? Sold. 

They're nice & thick, substantial pieces of chocolate so the serving suggestion of 3 seems appropriate for a snack. I had them with a milky tea, and it really brought out some spice & sweetness.

The first one I ate was without tea accompaniment - this was tasty, but unfortunately just seemed like an enrobed truffle. Not even nutty from the praline, and I certainly didn't pick up any apple or cinnamon.

However, once they warmed up a bit by being near my tea (or dipped in my tea, or eaten alongside it) the flavors really came through. The apple was tart, and the cinnamon was spicy & sweet, very warming.

I was a bit surprised when I bit through that there was no kind of gushy apple sauce or syrup like I had expected - silly me though, it did say apple ganache. I feel like a stronger flavor would've been developed had it been an apple puree or something rather than just apple flavor mixed in with a chocolate ganache. Would that have been better, though? Maybe not, the subtlety wasn't really a problem after chasing it with tea. Anything stronger might've been overpowering!

 I wonder if the stronger flavor profile I seemed to get after warming them up a bit has to do with the fact that the flavor of spiced apple is usually a part of something that has been toasted. Whatever the case, these went from plain chocolate to nice mix of flavors with just a little bit of warmth. I'd therefore suggest trying these with a cup of tea, warm milk or some hot chocolate.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dum Dum Donutterie

Often on this blog I've extolled the virtue of donuts, or doughnuts, or dagnabits. However you spell it, they're super nice & and one of those baked goods that gets a bit overlooked when faced with cookies, cakes, and the like. Things are changing for doughnuts though - with the cronut's big debut, interest was revitalized for the former. There are tons of great donuts out & about now, most of them incredibly unhealthy and from what I understand some people don't like that. Who knows!

Enter Dum Dum Donutterie - opened quite recently in Boxpark, they do baked doughnuts. By baking and not frying they eliminate a lot of the fat, and quite a few calories - much like a Goldfish cracker versus a Dorito. You probably didn't need an analogy at all, but you got one. This is Creamy Steaks, there will be reaches and analogies, and you're gonna love it!

Anyway, I started following them on Twitter as I'm intrigued by any-and-all doughnuts and they're actually quite near my office, as well. Reports of them selling out crazy-fast abounded.
 On one blustery Tuesday I made the trek over to Boxpark, hoping that they'd still have some left. It was around 1:00, so prime lunchtime, and I was surprised by the variety still available. I think after the initial few days they must've gotten a real handle on stock and what to expect, so don't be discouraged if you can't make it to their location in the morning - at lunchtime there were still plenty of doughnuts to go around.

I should've taken a picture inside, as it's a very nice looking shop - colorful but clean and a very well presented counter. The color follows through on the box, which is a nice touch! It's a permanent location as well. I was a bit worried as Boxpark hosts a lot of pop-ups, but Dum Dum is meant to be around until Boxpark itself folds up.

It was quite difficult to choose which flavors, as there are quite a few and they all sound good. No, really - they all sound good. Usually there is at least one stinker in the bunch when you're making over say, 5 varieties. So it is worthy of note that all the flavors are exciting & different, or sound like a particularly good version of a classic.

In the end I went with one 'plain' doughnut and one DumDum Cronut (sounds like such an insult) in the flavors Banoffee and Almond Creme & Pistachio.

The plan was to split them with my husband so we both got to try a bit of each - next time, I think I'll just get four...or two, and not tell him about it. By the time I finished my half of both of these, I was wishing I had more.

We had the Banoffee variety first, which was topped with dulce de leche frosting and cookie crumble. Inside is custard & banana puree. The banana flavor is much stronger than I thought it would be, in a very good way. I think nice, ripe bananas were used and they didn't skimp on the puree. The custard makes everything creamy and sweet, and the dulce de leche frosting makes for an excellent "offee". Both the custard & the frosting were ample, and incredibly fresh tasting even after a few hours out.

 The filling and the topping were amazing, and I never would've guessed that it was a "healthier" doughnut based on them.

Now, the thing is when you take the frying step out of doughnut making, it's going to be a bit different. It is a big part of what makes a doughnut a doughnut, and while it was still very tasty it was a bit more like a sweet bun than a fried doughnut. That's too be expected though - I mean, it isn't fried! I'd say unless you are an absolute doughnut purist, you're going to be perfectly happy with the slightly different texture and feel of these. In some ways, I actually preferred the baked.

It was much less greasy and the doughnut itself seemed less sweet - which makes the filling more easy to appreciate. Mostly it was a matter of texture, and frankly I more or less inhale fried doughnuts so it was nice to be able to sort of savor & chew for once. Like I said, unless you're a fried nut yourself you should be happy with a bit of a change.

So, we went to bed with visions of doughnuts dancing in our heads, for we knew we had a cronut to split in the morning. I might've had some fondant topping before bed. Keeps away nightmares.

This was the one I was most excited about, I nearly just ordered two of these: One, it's a cronut. I'm still into that. Two, it was almond cream & pistachios...I'll never not like that.

I didn't get an interior picture of this one, I'm sorry to say. I really ate it that fast - also I was on my way to work. You can sort of see a bit of cream where the fondant is absent, though! It was abundant.

I have no idea if cronuts are always fried or not. EIther way, these still have about the same texture as any other cronut I've had. Flaky, soft, with a bit of a crispness on the outside - I'd say these were actually an improvement over the Cocomaya cronut, which was more dense & cakey than the Rinkoff.

The filling was subtle and so creamy, like a delicate almond cream whipped just enough to hold it up. The pistachios on top were small & easily chewed, and the fondant topping was very sweet (as you'd expect) and when you got a bite with the almond cream & fondant together it was like creamy marzipan. I was a huge fan of this, really one of the most ambrosial things I've ever eaten before noon. Since I was still a bit bleary-eyed and yawny, I really want to give this another try and do a more proper rundown.

However, in the interest of variety I'd probably try the Croconut next - coconut buttercream (stop there, already sold) with dark chocolate & coconut sprinkles. I'm definitely into that. If you're visiting Boxpark or Shoreditch in general, you absolutely should make it over to Dum Dum Donutterie. Or if you have an office in London, I think they'll be doing deliveries soon. The value isn't bad at all for a luxury baked good, box of 9 is £12 so if you have a smallish office you can delight them all for under £15. Considering just a dozen Krispy Kremes will run you around £10 these days, it ain't half bad.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Survive! Red Curry Cup Noodle

Japanese curry has an interesting history. The reason it came to be a dish in Japan is not because of Indian influence, but instead through British sailors bringing the older English version of curry to Japan. Indian curry exists in Japan now as well; I've eaten it there and can vouch for the spiciness & authenticity - well, same 'authentic' as in Britain, I suppose!

However, keeping in mind that Japanese curry is based off of an English sailor's shipyard interpretation of Indian curry in the early 1900s, you can perhaps see where I'm going with this...it isn't that spicy and it sure ain't hot.

Don't get me wrong, it's very tasty stuff. I eat Japanese curry every chance I get and we make it at home fairly often, too. It is significantly sweeter than Indian curry, and maybe more in line with the sort of curry gravy taste of McDonald's 'curry sauce', Chinese takeout curry, or in a jarred "curry" sauce - anything in England where the type of curry isn't specified, and you're getting nearer to the taste of Japanese curry. Except it is often sweeter tasting & has slightly more varied flavor profile - still not very spicy, though.

Of course, Japanese curry has variants just like any other, they just tend more to the sweet & mild side than the hot & spicy side. If you go to CoCoIchibanya, for instance, you're able to choose your spice level up to 10. When I was in Japan I tried it at a 6 and was feeling pleasantly heated up, but I think above that level it would be regarded as more of a novelty or challenge than as something the average consumer would actually choose. That's the vibe I got at least - I could be wrong!

Though, I don't feel wrong after tasting this cup noodle, which is meant to be so hot that your very survival may be in jeopardy while eating. Well, that's just not true.

So, like a lot of nice Japanese cup noodles (see my review of the Cheese Curry variety) there are lots of bits of dehydrated potatoes, assorted vegetables, and some sort of mystery meat. Now, I love horrible meat byproducts like jerky, summer sausage and spam - so I'm into this. If you're a fancy (and not the feast kind) you might not be into these bits of soft, spiced meatfood. You'd be missing out though.

It smelled decently spicy when I opened it up. A Google search reveals that this is meant to have more black & red pepper in it, and that might be the case, but black pepper sure isn't going to make anything 'hotter', and the red pepper must have gone from none to a pinch.

The taste was basically exactly like the plain curry cup noodles. Honestly, I couldn't detect any further spiciness. That's not to say it didn't taste good, or I wasn't happy that I had eaten it, it was just a bit of a disappointment because with the marketing language I presumed it might just have some real heat. The quality is all there at the same level as the other Japanese-produced cup noodles - quality spring in the noodles, nice toppings (as far as reconstituted goes, as good as it gets) and strong flavors.

I'd probably go for the cheese curry one before this, though!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

After Hours Dessert Event with Adam Degg

I heard about this event on Twitter, I believe perhaps posted by hot-dinners, which is the site I use most often when daydreaming about going out to eat. So, I'm on there a lot.

Anyway, After Hours is a group putting on really cool dessert-based events, and this was the first one of this year. I hadn't heard of them before, but I wish I could've gone to some of the things they put on last year! It's a very smart idea too, as they take up in an otherwise unused coffee place/cafe that would be closed "after hours", and bring in a pastry chef/other dessert-type person and sell tickets! Really, a very smart idea - wish I would've thought of that.

So, four courses of dessert prepared by a very skilled pastry chef. I lost about an entire afternoon to blind ecstasy and woke up from my euphoria to see that I had bought three tickets.

So Friday we went on to Ozone (my favorite coffee place, see review of their chai latte) where the event was taking place this time. Ozone is a great space for events like this I think - I hope they continue to host them! There is a lot of seating, the decor is neutral and makes the restaurant seem incredibly spacious, and the kitchen is open which is brilliant for special events like this where everyone is there because they really enjoy food & dining out.

We were in a prime location, right across from the big preparation area where everything was getting plated up. The guest chef this time around was Adam Degg, head pastry chef of Wild Honey - a restaurant I now very desperately want to go to. The menu for the event was released ahead of time, and I had picked out what I thought would be my favorite and my least favorite. Spoiler alert: they were actually completely reversed!

Not sure this photo turned out so well, but if you click it will increase in size! Based on descriptions, I thought the Apples & Gingerbread would be my surefire hit, whereas the Rhubarb & Custard was my least anticipated course.

To start things off though, we had the Dark & Stormy Baba.

This one was the hardest to photograph, since it was in a deep bowl. Take my word for it though, it looked very cool. It was made up of ginger beer granite, Sailor Jerry rum baba, lime cream, and compressed pineapple. The ginger beer granite was great(nite), it was refreshing, soft, and tasted just like ginger beer with a bit less piquancy than the drink - probably since it wasn't carbonated. The lime cream was zingy, and meshed very well with the rum soaked baba. Lime & rum are a top combination, so it makes sense. The baba itself, can't say that I'm very familiar with the dessert as it is usually served, but this was delicious - like a boozy & moist cake. It had an airy texture to it, sort of like a castella cake. The compressed pineapple was sweet & tangy, my husband was reminded of some ice lolly but we couldn't think of it. Over all, very impressive way to start the evening!

Now, onto my favorite.

On the menu this one was described as being "vanilla custard and poached rhubarb sphere", which brought to my mind just a sphere of poached rhubarb with vanilla custard on the side. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the custard was also up in this sphere business.

Dang. So, that outer shell was sort of vanilla white chocolate, and so thin and delicate it was just beautiful. Inside, the creamiest, nicest vanilla custard I could imagine. I'd love to eat it everyday. Vanilla is one of my favorite flavors, and quite difficult to describe when it's as good as this. Gentle, milky, soothing. The custard was creamy but light, and not too sweet. Just milky, dairy, vanilla-y. All my favorite adjectives! Combined with the rhubarb underneath (and inside) it was just superb. I've never had rhubarb and custard before, in any combination, but it does go very nicely together - especially, I suppose, when done as well as this. One of the tastiest, and definitely the prettiest dessert I've ever eaten. I love spheres - memories of Phantasm, maybe?

This was so tasty, I would've been happy to leave right then. There was more, though - only halfway done.

The Gingerbread & Apples was going to be my favorite, I thought - I love gingerbread and big chunks of caramelized apples sounded delicious. The parsnip puree I was skeptical of, but definitely willing to try. Well, the caramlized apples were a bit more smoothed out and paste-like than I would've wanted, although the taste was quite good. The apples maintained their tang, it wasn't like apple sauce or anything, but I was hoping for more chunks: a bit of a caramelized apple salsa, maybe!

The gingerbread ice cream was quite nice, no faults there - it was just like I was hoping it would be.

However, I was right to be skeptical of the puree, as it did taste quite bit like... Thanksgiving. In a way, maybe this one is meant to emulate Christmas & Thanksgiving meals, both the savory and the sweet courses. The parsnip puree had some spicy cookie crumbles on top I think, but it still just sort of tasted like parsnips. Very cool idea, it just didn't work for me that night. I'm still glad I got to try it!

The Chocolate, Milk & Cereal was the one I was looking forward to most after the Gingerbread & Apples, and this one didn't let me down in the slightest! The cereal milk ice cream was a perfect translation, it did taste like the milk after a bowl of cornflakes. It's a really great combination of wheat, sugar, and dairy flavors. I've had a few different cereal milk type concoctions, such as the Hawksmoor cornflake milkshake, and one or two other bits & bobs over the last couple years and this was a great execution. It was elevated even more by the actual cereal clusters which included cornflakes & puffed rice. Both tasted very fresh and crunchy. You could say they stayed crunchy even in milk...cereal ice cream.

The chocolate sauce was dark & rich, and made the cereal bits taste like the beginning of the world's greatest no-bake cookie. I was a big fan of this one, as well.

We had coffee and macarons to round off the evening. Ozone's coffee is the best in London I think, and the macarons were great. Chewy with a crisp outer shell & a plump scoop of filling.

One was salted caramel, the other two were vanilla buttercream perhaps? They were all tasty and very generously filled.

It was a great night, the service was excellent & everything went very smoothly from where I was sitting. It was fun to watch the plates get prepared, and we got lots of nice chatter & banter with the friendly folks!

I'd absolutely do another After Hours event, I'm looking forward to the next one. If you're interested too, here is their site. I'd recommend grabbing a ticket for the next one as soon as you can, because they went pretty quick for this one & word will probably get out how much fun it is & how delicious everything was! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Alfort Kinako Bisuits

I've tried these Alfort biscuits before, in my Matcha Madness blog -- which totally should've been done in March, what was I thinking? Alfort biscuits are small butter cookies with a tablet of chocolate on top - a bit like a Petit Ecolier but smaller.

Anyway, they were very tasty in the matcha flavor, so I was looking forward to trying another interesting variety: Kinako, AKA roasted soybean flour. It might not sound delicious, but I've had it a few times in various forms and always found it to taste like sesame & peanut butter. It's considered a healthy topping, but of course when it is used to flavor chocolate confection on top of a biscuit it loses some of that shiny, glowy, healthful luster.

As I expected, they had that delicious sesame & peanut butter flavor that I've had with kinako before - not too sweet with a bit of a savory bite. Fans of peanut butter will like these - especially people who like Reese's Pieces in theory but find the quality of the peanut butter center to be inaccurate & waxy. This chocolate is like what the inside of a Pieces should be.

The ratio of chocolate and biscuit is about 50/50. The texture is great, the chocolate kinako confection on top is smooth and as firm as a standard milk chocolate bar, making it very satisfying to bite into. The biscuit is quite plain in taste, but provides a great base of crunch to the kinako chocolate - which is what you want to be tasting anyway, right?

They're quite tiny biscuits and not very suitable for dunking, but they went nicely with a cup of milky tea nonetheless. Sip & snack style.

There were a dozen little cookies in the package, and ordering from Candysan means the price is insanely cheap - .93 eurocents (is that the proper name?) for the box. Shipping can of course vary, depending on what else you've ordered and how quickly you want it, but I use SAL and I've always received my packages within about 2 weeks. Take a look at Candysan, as they stock lots of other interesting Japanese snacks & update very frequently! It's worth shopping around for Japanese treats, as there is such a huge variety in Japan no one shop can stock them all.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tirol Mix 9, Part 2

I'm revisiting the Tirol mix I reviewed this time last week - I've already reviewed Biscuit, 'Tirol no 1', and Hot Cake. I suppose that makes these ones second stringers.

We've got Almond, Milk, and the ringer...'Tirol no 2' the Bright Lights, Big City edition.

I was most interested in Milk, even though I'm pretty sure I've eaten it before. You've never eaten too many milky filled chocolates. Imagine I'm looking pointedly and ashamedly at a pile of Kinder wrappers right now.

Three different designs here, my favorite is the almond. It's actually very well etched. They're all about the same shade of uh, chocolate.

Another chewy center from the namesake Tirol chocolate, but this one is a coffee flavored caramel. Tastes nice, but again I'm not nuts for the chewy centers. I think Tirol is considered something of a children's treat in Japan, so it makes sense that they'd include so many chews - kids care much less about their teeth. Here's an interesting viewpoint; why do we care what kids eat before they have adult teeth? I say, "Junior, go for it while you still have the chance to do it over."

The Milk chocolate was as expected - the creamy, milky and sweet center that you get in a Kinder or in any number of 'milk' chocolates. I've always thought the chocolates that contain milk derived ingredients and sort of boast about the calcium are silly - I've never met a kid who hated milk and had to be tricked into eating it. I mean, chocolate milk at the very least, right? Maybe I was just a big fan of dairy from the start.

The almond was good, your basic chocolate covered almond. Nicely roasted, and the chocolate was decent. Let's face it though, you didn't buy a Tirol Mix 9 because you wanted a chocolate covered almond.

I chose to eat the three most pedestrian ones together, that way you can easily skip this review if you're easily bored. Whoops, should've mentioned that in the first paragraph, I guess.

The next 3 chocolates are lemon, strawberry, and cookies 'n' cream - so things are sure to get more interesting. Or - at the very least - less European.