Cake Diary: Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms

Cake Diary: Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms

The sad thing about friends moving away is that you don’t get to see their lovely face everyday. The good thing is you get to visit them and find new amazing tea rooms!

A dear friend from work moved to Suffolk at the end of last year and last weekend another friend and I finally got the chance to visit her. Knowing me as she does she found a beautiful little tea room for us to visit in the quaint medieval village of Lavenham.

My friend and I had hit the road early to find this rural retreat, winding our way through country lanes, the grey sky draping itself over naked trees, surrounded by muddy, fallow fields patiently awaiting spring. Amidst the grey February drizzle the new pad emerged and like a pocket of sunshine in the gloom there she was welcoming us with open arms.

On such a dreary afternoon it is a struggle for anywhere to look appealing, but Lavenham still managed to entice us. Narrow streets lined with wonky cottages lead us to the village square, frozen in time you can visualise the bustle of a medieval market horse and cart now replaced combustion engines and sat navs!

Tucked just off the main square is Lavenham Blue Tea Room. A stunning 15th Century listed building, it was once the village barber but now welcomes people for tea and cake. Amanda, the owner, welcomes you with a smile, a picture perfect tea lady with her pinnie round her waist, clutching a cosied tea pot. She was so accommodating, moving tables to fit in our party of 5 and making sure we were comfy throughout our visit.

Amazingly this tearoom is set in the downstairs of Amandas home. Lovingly converted it displays nicknacks from her life including four generations of family photographs. A grammar phone plays in the corner transporting you back to the 1940’s as you peruse the RAF memorabilia. Lavenhams RAF base was utilised by the USA during the second world war leaving it’s international influence across this traditional British village. The artefacts and photos take centre stage on the white washed walls, framed by exposed beams and surrounded by antique furniture.

The menu was a delight with locally sourced produce at its heart; the bread from the main square and scones from just two doors down, handy should they need a fresh batch. Breakfasts and brunches, soups and sarnies all homemade and hearty. I opted for the ploughman’s lunch, a platter to nibble on leaving room for cake of course!

None of us were disappointed as the food arrived, fresh and delicious. The portions were generous with the cheese cut in slabs and the bread served in hunks. Thankfully there is no rush in Lavenham and we were free to graze as we chewed the cud.

With time to rest before we embarked on cake I was ready for something sweet. The counter was laden with everything from traditional Victoria sponge to warming ginger cake and indulgent chocolate fudge. The toffee apple cake had caught my eye, topped with slices of fresh apple and doused in thick, gooey caramel dripping down it’s sides. To accompany it I ordered a pot of Assam, warming and malty it was the perfect brew.

The lace covered tables were set with doily adorned plates, vintage china tea sets and cake stands. Dainty sugar cubes ready to be tonged and a china bell on each table which can be chimed to summon a free teapot refill. Our cakes arrived with a side of ice cream to compliment the flavour of the slice, for me vanilla and caramel.

The cake was stunning, moist chunks of apple encased in light, gluten free sponge. The caramel on top was rich and smooth, the cold ice cream cleansing the pallet between each bite. The apple on top gave the slice freshness and crunch to contrast the soft, sweet apple within. All I needed was a sparkler and it’d be like bonfire night all over again!

With our bellies satisfied we kept the afternoon nap at bay with some fresh air and a wander around the local antique store. This little village is ripe for exploring but both time and weather were against us on this occasion so we headed home. The perfect excuse to head back when the sun is shining!

No matter the time of year Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms will bring sunshine to your day. The drives around the Suffolk countryside are stunning and the welcome you receive is whole hearted. So whether with new friends or catching up with old ones, order a refill and catch up over cake.

Lavenham Blue Vintage Tearoom, 6 Market Place, Lavenham CO10 9QZ    

TEL: 01787 248295  

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Cake Diary: Flourish

Cake Diary: Flourish

One of the many joys of having an artisan baker as a friend is that she finds little bakery gems and invites me along to test them out. Purely market research you understand as we would not normally like to spend our days off chit chatting over cups of tea and enjoying freshly baked produce!……. It’s a tough life.

This week we discovered Flourish, a craft baker tucked away on an industrial estate in Watford. As the sat nav led us past tyre fitters and wholesalers I began to think we were in the wrong place (I don’t trust sat nav’s at the best of times) but then it emerged before us. In contrast to it’s run down industrial surroundings Flourish stands proud with grey painted brickwork and slick black signage; a clean and sleek oasis.

The building is huge with the bakery taking up the majority of it, they need the space as they supply several high end hotels in London as well as The Grove locally. Sitting proudly at the front is the cafe with rustic, warm decor of reclaimed wood panelling and worn leather seats, welcoming you in to the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Vintage pastry trays and pans line the walls while wooden crates display goods for sale, simple yet elegant. Above each table a low hanging pendant light keeping an intimate feel and your focus on the food before you.DSC_0112

The wood panelling is punctured with bright windows of white light showing you the inner workings of the bakery. Machines whirring and hands kneading, just a pane of glass between the creators and the client.

The breakfast and brunch menu is simply mouth watering, there are no greasy spoons here! Fresh, vibrant ingredients lovingly put together to satisfy your hunger, the difficulty is deciding what to have. Having tried and failed to cook the perfect poached egg more times that I care to admit I now leave this nemesis of mine to the experts. Clearly these guys knew what they were doing so I ordered the smashed avocado and poached eggs with halloumi, on sourdough.

I had prepared myself for the menu choices and I knew the selection of breads and bakes would be varied. I had not, however, expected there to be such an interesting tea selection. The brand stocked is Birchall’s, an eco-concious London tea company who have developed plantations around the world. They work closely with the communities they’re in, are rain forest alliance certified and fair trade. Amongst the more familiar blends I noticed one on the menu I had not heard of before, Virunga….I was intrigued.

Virunga tea is grown at high altitude in Rwanda, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga National Park. Not only does this park nurture exquisite tea plantations it is also home to endangered wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas. You can read more about Birchalls conservation work at their website where they also recommend a Netflix documentary called “Virunga” for an insight into the area. One for the watchlist me thinks. Large companies have such an obligation to the nations they work with, amazing produce can be grown whilst still caring for the environment and local communities.

In the bag Virunga is a fine black tea and in the cup it brews a warm russet colour. I found it a little strong to drink without milk – as my friend described it “It’s very Tea-ee”! I would have to agree. A strong and earnest brew it will appeal to those who like a DSC_0097“proper cuppa”. Slightly more refined around the edges that a builders brew but still packs a punch. Virunga also comes in earl grey and Chai blends which may be softer on the palate but I am yet to try.

Brunch was nothing short of eggy perfection. The sourdough, toasted but still soft, had a delicious chewy crust, slathered with creamy, smashed avocado. The halloumi was pleasingly squeaky (I expect nothing less from squeaky cheese!) and not as salty as many supermarket brands. As I popped each egg the golden yolk flowed dressing the plate with sunshine. A gentle sprinkle of chilli & chives graced each fork full providing just a tingle of warmth. My plate was cleared and my tummy was full. So full I had to get my sweet treat to take away!

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The counter had plenty on offer, from huge slabs of carrot cake to delicate fruit tarts. It’s not often I go for a chocolate choice but I was enticed by the coconut brownie. A good few hours later that afternoon as the 4pm slump hit and the kettle was on I tucked in. Not as gooey as some brownies but I don’t think thats a bad thing. Sturdy enough to hold and bite in to, the desiccated coconut adding both texture and flavour to the bitter sweet chocolate. Deliciously satisfying and definitely worth the wait!

The vibe of Flourish is very much of an artisan bakery but their wealth of experience and expertise comes across in droves. There is little reason to visit this North Watford industrial estate but for the delicious food, welcoming service and artisan loaves that entice people back time and again. I doubt you’ll be passing but I highly recommend a detour.

Flourish, Unit 2 Garnett Close, Watford, WD24 7GL         TEL: 01923 630588

Hello 2018

Hello 2018

Firstly I’d like to apologise for my disappearance for the later part of 2017, how time flies when life takes over. I began an exciting new venture in September, attending college to train to become a counsellor. I have dabbled in psychology and wellbeing throughout my life and find human behaviour and the mind a fascinating subject.

I have alluded to my personal experience of anxiety in previous posts and a few years ago I was struggling so attended counselling to face the demons I was battling. It was a revelation and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed exploring me!! It’s a relatively selfish pass time in that you get to sit with another human being you know nothing about and talk solely about yourself. Your fears, thoughts, emotions and anger laid bare, such a daunting yet liberating experience.

After working on myself for nearly 2 years (and still to this day I hasten to add), I wanted to learn the theories behind the scenes and how to use my experience to help others. Working full time and studying in the evening means it will be a few years until I am fully qualified, however I am going to enjoy the journey as I continue to develop my self awareness along the way. Needless to say finding a place for study along with my current commitments has been a challenge, hence why Tea & Happiness took a back seat. So what does 2018 have in store?

I am not one for New Years resolutions, being a realist I refuse to set myself up to fail! The streets are dotted with regretful runners, the gym full of fledgling fitness freaks and supermarkets are selling out of kale & avocados faster than you can say “superfood”.

We all want to be better (whatever that may look like) and I believe it is important to set goals and try something new. But why do that in January?! It’s notoriously dark, cold and with the disappearance of Christmas sparkle, pretty darn miserable. I listened to a Radio show which discussed resolutions and one caller said he treated January like a 30 day free trial to try something out and see how it fits. Come the end of the month you can adapt it, drop it or just keep the bits that work for you. This seems like a healthier approach to the New Year, New Me farce.

So in light of that healthier attitude I am not going to berate myself for letting my blog slide. For 2018 I aim to combine my education with my creative expression as I have so much I want to share with you. Not just new teas I have discovered over the last few months but also insights into mental health and personal development. I’d love to hear what your goals and ambitions are so please share in the comments below and let’s see what the next 12 months has in store!

In the meantime I wish you all a happy & healthy 2018 🙂

Tea & Happiness’ Top 5 Teas

Tea & Happiness’ Top 5 Teas

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Nearly a year on from starting my blog I have had the pleasure of trying a wide variety of teas from around the globe. Although it is hard to pick a top 5 I have selected some teas that I would consider daily staples as well as something a little different should you wish to challenge your taste buds. So put the kettle on and enjoy………

5) In at 5 is an after dinner favourite Fresh Mint TeaGreat to settle a full tummy and can be enjoyed hot or cold. There are plenty of mint tea bags on the market but there is nothing wrong with simply grabbing some fresh mint from the garden and plunging it into boiling water.

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4) Warming your cockles at number 4 is Chilli RooibosThis is blend I found at Kanuka tea house and although it’s an acquired taste it soon becomes addictive. With dried chillis and rose buds in the mix it has floral notes with a sting in the tale. It can be like tea roulette as each cup can vary in spice levels depending how much chilli you scoop up. Great for the metabolism and Rooibos has suburb health benefits as well as being caffeine free! Give it a try if you’re feeling fiery.

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3) Bringing balance at number 3 is OolongI have recently discovered how wonderful this tea is for both it’s flavour and it’s healing properties. It’s a beautiful tea to look at, tiny rolled pearls which unfurl in hot water to reveal their natural green leaves. This tea fills the gap between green and black teas so carries many of the properties of both. Don’t be put of by it’s earthy fragrance as it is much lighter on the palette than you’d expect. If you can’t quite handle the bitter quality of green tea but want the same antioxidant power then give Oolong a try.

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2) A classy cup of Afternoon Tea is number 2 on my list. Most tea houses will offer an afternoon blend on their menu and the exact blend of leaves will vary from brand to brand. I enjoy a blend from Tealicious which is a subtle blend of Assam & Ceylon. The brew is light and creamy so I find no requirement to add milk but you can to taste. It’s a perfect cup for a summers afternoon with a slice of something sweet. I find this blend satisfying and reliable so it’s worth having in the cupboard for when you feel like adding a little sophistication to your day.

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1) So top of the teas is the beautiful and tasty Genmaichaa Japanese breakfast green tea blend. I recently found this little gem at The Camden Tea Shop in London. This is green tea blended with popped rice which gives a toasted warmth to the brew. It looks so pretty, speckled with popcorn and rice grains, and although you can taste the green tea the rice adds a depth of flavour that eliminates any bitterness from the leaves. It’s currently my favourite way to start the day and I highly recommend it for a breakfast cuppa with a difference.

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I hope you have enjoyed this run down of my current top 5 teas. I’d love hear what your favourite brew is……who knows perhaps it’ll feature in my next review 🙂

Thank you for reading and happy brewing!

Cake Diary: Camphill Cafe

Cake Diary: Camphill Cafe

With the weather being as glorious as it has been of late my other half and I decided to explore somewhere new to walk the dog. We headed up to Milton Keynes (the land of round abouts) to enjoy a picnic by Willen Lake. Amidst the sprawling housing estate that is Milton Keynes is this oasis where you can do as little or as much as you choose. There is an array of water sports on offer on the lake, from rowing to wakeboarding and most things in between, but as tempting as the swan pedalos looked we kept our feet (and paws) on dry land!
The park is vast and once within in you soon forget that you are in the middle of suburbia. We walked around the lake trying our hand at some of the exercise pit stops along the way (this challenge came to an abrupt end when I beat my other half on the monkey bars!). So to keep the peace we kept moving, meandering along the banks enjoying the sunshine.
In contrast to the sporty, fast paced South Lake the North Lake is home to a Buddhist temple and the first peace pagoda to be built in the western world. We clambered up the hill beyond the pagoda and found the “one world tree”, its branches heavy with messages of hope, photos of loved ones who have passed and ribbons of remembrance. We took a moment in this peaceful place, surrounded by cherry trees, to read some of the messages.

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Just a short stroll took us to the perfect spot to sit and unwrap our sandwiches, overlooking the labyrinth and the lake beyond. The dog was content playing fetch and returning in hope of a spare crust to keep his energy up. Hours could be spent enjoying this clean and open space but cake was calling our name and I had found somewhere nearby to satisfy this urge.
Just across the road from Willen Lake North and the car park for the peace pagoda is a wonderful place called the Camphill Cafe. Camphill is an organisation that offers support and development for adults with learning difficulties or disabilities. They run a community where residents live as independently as possible whilst being supported for their individual needs.


Co-workers live alongside the residents assisting them with day to day activities and as many of the workers visit from abroad the residents, in turn, assist them in practicing their English language skills. It is a partnership throughout and the residents are encouraged to take part in various activities and workshops that are available on site on site.
One of these workshops is the cafe where residents develop their social skills, customer service and food preparation knowledge. Serving seasonal lunches, hot beverages and cakes baked on site in the Camphill bakery. The bakery and gardens are other areas where residents can learn about growing plants and vegetable or making bread and baked goods, all of which go on to be sold in the cafe. The pickles and preserves the residents are taught to make are also sold in the community shop. It’s a hands on environment making the site essentially self sufficient, its great to be able to meet those who have hand made many of the products on offer.
As we arrived it was like entering a small village, peaceful and slow paced. The gardens are exquisite with the residents clearly taking pride in the pruning and planting. The shared accommodation wraps itself around a small green area, with residents milling about running errands or off to their scheduled workshops. The cafe is modern in it’s decor, pine furniture and simple table dressings. Every wall filled with art work for sale and murals of the community, the space is filled with colour and light. We took a seat outside in front of the lawns to enjoy the sun.
Our dog attracted a lot of attention as numerous residents came over to enquire about him and take an interest in our day. With our order taken we welcomed the interactions, finding out more about the residents and how they fill their days. Some, it seems, have a preference for working in the cafe whereas others like to mix it up by spending each day doing something different. It is clear that they all get a lot of satisfaction out of what they do and a real sense of independence.
The cakes and scones on offer all looked delicious and the slices were generous to satisfy the appetite we had worked up walking around the lakes. Today my slice of choice was coffee and walnut. Not being a coffee drinker I am often cautious when it comes to this flavour but to my delight the balance of coffee to cake was perfect; soft sponge with just a hint of coffee, complimented by the sweet icing and bitter walnuts. My partner in cake ordered the Victoria sponge which was equally healthy is size with a generous layer of icing in the middle.


We selected a pot of mint tea to accompany our cakes, I always find this brew more refreshing on a warm day as it is still palatable as it cools down. I was impressed that the cakes are baked on site and the residents should feel a great sense of pride in the products they produce. I am not encouraging you to visit Camphill out of obligation or to feel good that you have contributed to those who require support in day to day living. I am encouraging you to visit because the cake is delicious, the produce is fresh and seasonal and it is the epitome of locally produced. The fact you’ll meet some amazing people and support this fantastic charity is just the cherry on the cake.
Camphill Cafe, Japonica Lane, Milton Keynes MK15 9JY TEL: 01908 308738

The Art of Artisan Chocolate

The Art of Artisan Chocolate

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of returning to The School of Artisan Food to take part in an Artisan Chocolate making workshop hosted by the award winning Ottar Chocolate. It was such a joy being back on the historic grounds of The Welbeck Estate, its sandstone buildings glimmering in the spring sunshine, framed by fields in a rainbow of green.
Shelly was our guide for the day and it was apparent from the outset that chocolate runs through her veins, blood may be thicker than water but chocolate is thicker still! She shared her knowledge about the origin of the beans and I found it fascinating to learn what real chocolate is. The link between cocoa beans and tea leaves is clear; it truly matters where the product comes from and how it is processed. As with many crops the soil, altitude, weather and atmosphere all impact on the flavour. This seems a logical link when talking about wine, coffee and tea but chocolate seems to be the black sheep of this family. Let’s face it we all reach for a bar of galaxy or dairy milk when we get a sugar craving but that is exactly the issue, it’s a sugar craving and so far removed from chocolate.
My palate is used to detecting the subtle flavours in tea, appreciating hints of malt, spice or fruit in different brews, but could I tune in to chocolate? We took a taste test with beans from two origins, Madagascan and Brazilian. Like a sommelier of chocolate we used all of our senses to experience each. Starting with the Madagascan I noted it didn’t immediately melt with the warmth of my fingers into a gooey, sticky mess. Snapping the chocolate drop in half released the familiar aroma before I popped it into my mouth, letting it melt slowly. Solid dissolved to liquid on my tongue and it hit my taste buds with an unexpected citrus zing. The texture was unmistakably chocolate but the flavour was creamy, cut through with sharp lemon and a floral undertone. The Brazilian taster was still smooth but held a more nutty, toasted flavour. Deeper and richer it stayed on the palate with a comforting warmth of roasted beans. The differences were notable and could not be disputed; I finally understood what chocolate tastes like!
My taste buds were alive and in turn ignited my imagination. The kitchen soon became a hive of activity with a smorgasbord of fresh ingredients on offer; herbs, spices, fruit, nuts and, to my relief, teas! Shelly guided us through making salted caramel and tempering chocolate. She offered advice on balancing flavours as we raided the ingredients to create the perfect truffle. I was content lost in this chocolate paradise, coco powder in my hair and a workstation looking similar to an edible Pollack masterpiece.


It was a day spent with like minded people, learning and laughing. As always the school were attentive hosts offering an array of freshly made salads for lunch, the pea and mint hummus with herby focaccia was so delicious I had to have seconds…..and thirds! You can taste the freshness in every dish and the ethos of the school runs through every product and course they offer.

A perfect part of this artisan puzzle is Ottar chocolates, creating divine sweet pastries and truffles from high quality ingredients. The cocoa beans are ethically sourced from farms where the workers are treated well, their children are in school and the product is processed with care and respect. The passion for every step of this artisan process is evident in the work this husband and wife team put in, lovingly transforming chocolate into delicious treats which can be enjoyed (almost) guilt free.

Next time you have a chocolate craving think about the bar you choose. Don’t automatically reach for the sugar hit, why not explore the bean to bar process and select something where you can savour the flavour and awaken your taste buds!

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Salted caramel heaven
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It’s all about balance
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Earl grey and lemon truffles

Ottar Chocolate, The Welbeck Estate, Worksop, S80 3LT            TEL: 01909 512579

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Todays venture into cake lead me out of Hertfordshire to the small town of Ampthill in neighbouring Bedfordshire. With a quaint village like feel and a fascinating history Ampthill is littered with boutique shops, antique stores and pretty tea rooms, one of which being Cakestand & Crumb. I was first introduced to this hidden gem pre-blog so I simply had to return and share it with you.

Tucked away through an archway this vintage tea room catches your eye with it’s pastel frontage and multicoloured outdoor furniture. As it is away from the main road it can be pleasant to sit outside in the fresh air as to say it’s cosy within is an understatement. With just half a dozen tables it is an intimate affair, natural light floods through the gorgeous bay window preventing a claustrophobic sensation. As if welcomed into someones own dining room vintage dressers display old books and crockery and a record player fills the space with the unmistakable crackle of vinyl.

We had reserved a table, which I highly recommend doing, and ordered the full afternoon tea. We were running late but the staff were very accommodating and welcoming as we arrived. Our table laid out beautifully with classic vintage crockery and cutlery, linen table clothes soften the rustic wooden furniture and there is no holding back on doilies; chintz with all the trimmings. The glass display counter imprisons delicious cake creations including gluten free lemon, chocolate fudge, white chocolate and raspberry and a selection of cup cakes. Their slices are not for the faint-hearted, triple tiered, laden with thick buttercream icing and topped with the fresh fruit or thick chocolate drizzle. Choose wisely as there will be no room for seconds!

I was pleasantly surprised that the afternoon tea is brought to the table in courses. As divine as the tiered stands look they can also be intimidating; foothills of sandwiches to wander through before clambering up to the boulder like scones then the final push to the sugary sponge summit. Instead a delicate selection of sandwiches was placed before us, delicious triangles of ham & mustard, egg & cress and cheese & chutney. The bread was fresh and soft, each mouthful met with a flavoursome filling. With no time pressures upon us we were free to graze and top up our teas.

There was a respectable list of loose teas to choose from that included all the favourites but one in particular caught my eye, “Lost Malawi”. I believe the blend is from the Rare Tea Company who source the leaves from one of the oldest tea farms in Malawi called Satemwa. This is essentially a black tea, similar to english breakfast, but the fact it is hand crafted in small batches with such care taken over the harvest each cup fills with a rich smooth flavour you can’t find in a high street bag. We also ordered a pot of Assam so we could both try and compare each brew. As expected the Assam was malty and soft, slightly creamier than the Malawi leaf but equally enjoyable.

As we talked and topped up our second course arrived, traditional fruit scones with jam and clotted cream. In contrast to my recent scone encounter I was presented with two mini scones, delightful morsels on which I balanced cream and jam (I have now decided I am firmly in the Devonshire camp…….subject to change!). Four bites was just enough to bridge the gap from savoury to sweet.

With empty pots we decided to change our brew for the final course. Each with the lasting sensation of clotted cream on our palates we opted for a cleansing pot of lemon verbena. Served in modern glass pots the leaves swirled before our eyes as the tea brewed. A light golden green in colour it tasted as fresh as it looked. The perfect accompaniment for the sweet and sticky course that followed.

 

Our final plate consisted of bite size chocolate brownies with a sticky layer of fruit jam running through the centre. Mini lemon and mascarpone tarts, encased in buttery, crumbly pastry aside a gooey meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit. Each bite was delicate in texture but heavy in flavour, sweet, soft, crunchy, zesty, rich and fruity, the summit had it all. I was beaten by the time I reached the meringue so it was kindly boxed up for me to take home. Unfortunately I was a little careless as I got in the car and the box tumbled from my hand, bouncing off the car to land face down on the pavement!!!!…..oh well, now I have eaton mess!!

This bijou bakery has a world of passion within and every drop is poured into it’s bakes and although there is a compromise with space there is no such compromise when it comes to flavour. Enjoy a monstrous slab of indulgence or a platter of miniature delights, either way you wont be disappointed as you devour every morsel from Cake-stand to crumb.Cake Diary

Cakestand and Crumb, 7 Kings Arms Yard, Ampthill, MK45 2PJ        TEL: 07843 574379 

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Having a cheeky weekday off work can mean only one thing, time for tea and cake. With my other half and our four legged friend in tow we heading up to the Ashridge estate. I have been visiting this national trust site since I was a child. Memories of school trips to go pond dipping and collect soil samples, climbing trees and getting lost away from the beaten track. No matter the weather I have enjoyed long walks around the acres of forest, secluded meadows and rolling hills.

We parked up near the Bridgewater Monument, named after a historic Ashridge resident, the third Duke of Bridgewater. The imposing granite column towers above the surrounding ancient trees allowing stunning 360 degree views from the top, thats if you can handle the 172 steps to get there!

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We stayed at ground level venturing deep into the forest, soon the groups of ramblers, horse riders and young families were far behind us. The dog ran free, picking up sticks far to large but his perseverance meant they were dragged for several meters. The spring canopy was filling up with new green leaves and a carpet of bluebells softened the forest floor. With wildlife all around us we walked and talked, building up an appetite for lunch.

Brownlow’s cafe is situated between the monument and the Ashridge visitors centre where you can pick up walking maps, books and gifts. All the seating is outside so opening times vary between the seasons but large umbrellas protect you from the worst of the elements if required. Dogs are welcome and lay strewn between tables or looking hopefully at their owners plates, wide eyed and waggy tailed.

On offer is locally sourced produced on a varied menu of hot and cold dishes. An all day breakfast, or a jacket spud laden with tuna or cheese, baguettes and panini’s, fresh chilli con carne with crusty bread or home made quiche and salad. The portion sizes give exceptional value for money but you have to leave room for cake!

Slabs of the classics such as lemon drizzle and carrot cake are on offer alongside chocolate brownies and muffins with plenty of tea to wash it down. Hearty brews to warm up walkers rather than dainty cups and saucers. I saw several people opt for the hot chocolate which comes pilled high with mini marsh mallows. I chose a cup of english breakfast to go with the locally renowned scone with jam and clotted cream, which didn’t disappoint. To say it was giant is an understatement, it was a scone on steroids!! Huge and fruit filled it bulged with enough cream to feed a hoard of ramblers. I felt the ratio of cream to jam was a little unbalanced and as they are preprepared you cant personalise the toppings. Never the less it was light, creamy, fruity and delicious! Despite the miles we had walked the scone beat me, but having polished off his more reserved slice of brownie my other half stepped up to assist.

All the fresh air, exercise and cake made for a sleepy trio heading home. The dog, free from human chores, snored as preparations were made to head back to work tomorrow. In fact he still snores as I type…….it’s a dogs life!!!!

Brownlow Cafe, Moneybury Hill, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4 1LX 

Tel: 01442 851670 

Tea Diary: Real Remedies

Tea Diary: Real Remedies

There are some events you see advertised and they call out to you, almost as if it had been handpicked for you. On this occasion it was a journey through the chakras with a locally blended tea to compliment each, could it be more perfect? The evening was hosted by Real Remedies at the Tiki Cafe in Hemel Hempstead. The cafe itself is a stylish, independent coffee shop which holds a variety of events including open mic nights. They have an event room upstairs which is where our tea tasting would take place. Decked out with vintage furniture and retro art work it was an open yet chilled out space.

Our hosts for the evening were James & Vanessa Jacoby, the co-founders of Real Remedies, the passion they have for their business shone through from the outset. Friendly and welcoming with a wealth of knowledge to assist those less familiar with the chakras and their qualities. From my yoga practice I have a basic understanding of where the chakras are but knew little else. I was in for an educational evening as we began our journey through the chakras, one cup at a time.

We have seven principle chakras running up the centre of our bodies, each a unique centre of spiritual power. Linked to emotional and physical well being, blockages in these centres can have a negative impact on the way we feel. If our chakras are unblocked energy can flow freely around our body ensuring good health. With each chakra having its own distinct identity each tea in turn has it’s own distinct flavour to support and relieve the energy flow within us. Let’s make it clear that no medical promises can be made here but the ingredients for each tea are hand picked for their benefits in alleviating issues associated with each body part and aiding over all well being.

We started at our base, the root chakra. This is at the base of your spine, grounding you to the earth and giving you a sense of safety and security. In the jar the fragrance was light and fruity, like summer strawberries. Once brewed it became deep aubergine in colour with a more spicy, cinnamon scent. I enjoyed the fruitiness from the strawberry and elderberry, and the cinnamon gave the grounding warmth. A comforting cup which could easily settle you if anxious, offering vitality when fatigued and perhaps bringing you back to earth when all seems a little out of control.

Next up is the sacral chakra just below the belly button. Our centre of strength it inspires creativity and energy. In contrast to the first this tea was earthy with a hint of citrus, light brown in colour it gave a much sharper flavour. At fist sip I was not convinced, it felt like a pallet cleanser dominant with orange peel and nettle. As my palate adjusted to the tartness of this brew I grew to enjoy it. Although still fruity the citrus edge really gives this one a more stimulating feel, if you were low on energy or perhaps had a project to focus on this would certainly pep you up.

I was already pleasantly surprise that I could easily identify the teas different personalities. The blends are complex but truly tune into different sensations.

We continued on to the Solar Chakra. This is just above the naval and we have moved up to the centre of confidence and will power. It had similar citrus tones to the last but lighter and fresher. An underlying warmth from cinnamon gave it a peppery edge. The lightest in colour of the teas so far it appeared golden in the cup. It felt like powerful brew, packing a punch and awakening the senses. This would be great after an over indulgence as the blend of flavours perked me up yet calmed and settled my stomach. It’s feisty flavour may help inspire you to regain control and take action where its needed.

Half way up we reach our heart chakra, unsurprisingly at our heart. It is central to us feeling balanced and content. Finding peace here can open us up to love and compassion whilst quietening our self critic. Fairly bright in colour it was yellow with a hint of green in the cup. The jar gave a light floral fragrance with a hint of mint. I found it very soft on the palate, gently warming as the fennel and spearmint complimented each other in perfect balance. This was an easy one to drink, smooth and soft it brought about a sense of peace. A cup would give you a window of stillness in the busiest of days, time to compose yourself and persevere.

Next we reach the chakra that represents expression and authenticity, the Throat Chakra. This is one I have an affinity with as if I am struggling to communicate something or my creative expression is stifled I often feel it in my throat. I was interested to experience this tea and how it may alleviate blockages here. Speckled with powder blue corn flowers the blend is aromatic with liquorice and cloves. The flavour not as strong as the scent which was a pleasant surprise. The light catches a slight blue tone in the brew, smooth across the tongue it almost caresses your throat on the way down, perfect if you’re feeling any tension or a sore throat. This soft brew felt very smooth to drink, relaxing and enabling you to express yourself with authenticity.

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Throat Chakra Tea

Our penultimate chakra is the 3rd eye, placed on your forehead just between the brows. As we rise up through the chakras we also rise up from the earth. Away from the more grounding centres to the place of intuition and wisdom. This blend is light with a purple edge to it, breathing in a more heady and aromatic scent. Caraway, marshmallow root and star anise work in harmony along with fruity notes that lift your attention up and beyond the 3rd eye. This cup is one to enjoy if you’re lacking concentration and need to reconnect the mind and body.

So finally we reach the heights of the Crown Chakra, right on the top of the head. There is really no limit to this energy centre as it connects you with all that is beyond. The brew is floral with rose petals, rosemary and lavender combining to relax and unite you. The scent is uplifting and the flavour warm with nutmeg. This is a cup to make space for, enjoy it as it swirls around your senses and be as ease.

Each of the blends is a joy to the eye, colourfully speckled with dried fruit and flowers. Flavours that I would not have normally tried where combined in a unique way. I enjoyed the experience of being talked through the chakras and how the ingredients were hand picked to compliment each energy centre. Of course you can enjoy these teas for what they are, naturally delicious, but tuning into your body and sensations of each brew added a new eye opening level to enjoying a cuppa.

Real Remedies also offer tinctures and tonics of their blends to harness the power of nature to aide the body, mind and soul. Put the kettle on and enjoy a different kind of brew, with an inquisitive mind and an open heart you may find the perfect brew for you.

You can learn more about other events and workshops or buy on line at Real Remedies website.

Tiki Cafe, 208 The Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP1 1BH TEL: 01442 240108

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

I stumbled across The Kitchen via a Facebook advert (thank you cookies!) and after perusing their website I was keen to know more as there seemed to be a lot going on. Celebration cakes to order, baking lessons and afternoon tea to mention just a few.

Croxley Green is just outside of Watford and Rickmansworth, and it is here town and country sit in juxtaposition. Winding narrow lanes take you past large houses and riding schools, circling to the rear of the Grove Hotel, renowned for it’s famous clientele. Entering Croxley via the green itself all appears unchanged since the 1800’s when a lot of the beautiful houses were built. Folk out walking their dogs and taking in the (almost) spring like air, both pubs on the green brimming with Sunday roast diners, but it was the cake we were here for.

The village-esque feel subsides a little as you approach the main run of shops and the terraces of modern housing beyond. The Kitchen stands understated just meters from the quaint and historic railway station. Part of the Metropolitan underground line it means that within just 30mins you can be transported from the shires to the heart of the city.

The Kitchen differs from other venues I have visited in that everything is simple and paired back. There is no getting away from the fact it is a modern building, there are no original features or open fire places to coo over. In fact it used to be a blockbuster video store!! Now that brings back some memories; spending Friday evenings pursuing the isles, debating which movie to rent and for how many nights! Leaving the house for such a menial task seems very old fashioned now a days. What the building lacks in personality is certainly made up for by the staff. Linda greeted us the second we walked through the door, looking up from the colouring in book she was assisting a young customer with, she smiled and welcomed us in. It was clear from the outset that customers of all ages are a priority here.

The seating area is relatively small, although on this occasion most of the tables were reserved for a Birthday party and a Hen party due in later. Both were having a full afternoon tea so the tables were laid beautifully with vintage crockery and traditional linen table clothes. It may be wise to book to avoid disappointment if there is a group of you.

The cake making talent is clear when you view the amazing sugar work on display, stunning celebration cakes made to order and created in the on site studio. I loved the fact the “studio” was not hidden away, surrounded by glass allowing you to see all the handy work going on behind the scenes. It was like getting a sneaky peak at Santas workshop!

We sat in the window on a sofa reminiscent of the Central Perk couch in Friends, but just for two. It enveloped us into it’s cushions and we were settled. Unfortunately the view is not as stunning as the surrounding country side but you can watch the world go by along and “there’s nowt as interesting as folk” as they say.

Various coffees are on offer from one of those fancy machines I don’t understand, and a lovely selection of Pukka & Fairtrade tea bags. No loose tea here but that feels right for this venue, it’s not about fancy leaves for far flung lands but a simple selection of quality bags and beans. After recently discovering Rooibos and its amazing health benefits (lowering blood pressure, improved complexion, relieves insomnia to mention just a few) I opted for the Rooibos and Honeybush by Pukka. My partner in cake today went for the Peppermint and Green Tea Blend.

Rooibos, pronounced Roy-Boss, really is the boss! It is grown in South Africa and was originally marketed in the UK as Redbush tea, which may ring a bell with some of you. I assume that now we are all about the Quinoa, Kale and Flaxseed tea companies felt we were able to handle the native name. My brew was blended with Honeybush, also South African, it adds a little natural sweetness to the cup. I let mine brew for about 3 minutes until a gorgeous copper, red tone – no milk required. The flavour is subtle and smooth on the pallet, the honey coming through in taste but not smell. It was a very easy blend to drink so I was grateful for the extra mini jug of hot water so I could top up myself.

The cake display was a little light when we arrived but Sunday afternoons can be like that, establishments will rarely over bake, especially if they are closed on the Monday. It was an easy decision to make, we selected a slice of the prettiest Victoria sponge I have ever seen and a slab of lemon drizzle, which I always find hard to resist. Our hearts broke a little when we went to pay the bill and saw they had topped up with Coffee & walnut and some amazing looking brownies!!! But it seems no matter what you choose you wont be disappointed.

As we were having a lazy Sunday we had enjoyed a late breakfast before heading out for cake, boy was that a wise decision. The portion sizes are eye popping and belly filling which put a smile on both our faces. This would be the perfect pitstop after a lovely long dog walk or cycle round the country lanes (we did neither of those things by the way #guiltyface) but that didn’t stop us from polishing off the lot!.

Both sponges were fantastically light and not overly sweet. The Victoria sponge let its thick butter cream coat the palate only to be cut through by the delicious fruity jam adding a sugar hit. It reminded me of a perfectly balanced afternoon scone.

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The lemon drizzle let the fruit do the talking, the sponge being a steady base for the sharp lemon syrup which seeped through every inch, a crunchy sugar topping finished with a little fresh zest. Both light to the touch but packing a punch with flavour.

Satisfied (and ready for a nap) we wended our way back home in the comforting realisation that you don’t always need all the bells and whistles to enjoy an afternoon slice. The kitchen doesn’t hide behind gimmicks, it’s a community hub where children can come to learn how to bake on a Saturday morning, Grown up’s can enjoy comedy & live music evenings, or simply catch up with friends over a tasty brew and a generous slice of cake. To me the Kitchen feels part of something that isn’t about global brands and nameless baristas, it’s about community and a personal touch. So no matter where you are see what’s on offer right on your door step as these are the businesses that deserve our custom.

The Kitchen, 198 Watford Road, Croxley Green, WD3 3DB      TEL: 01923 805896