Review: The Thorntons Chocolate Afternoon Tea.

Thorntons Chocolate Tea

Nicey (but pricey)

Chocolate Week 2013 is almost upon us – so what better way to kick things off than by sneaking a peek at the Thorntons Chocolate Afternoon Tea?

Inspired by the flavours of several new Thorntons offerings – and on sale for a limited time – it certainly isn’t your average menu (unless your local tea room always sells Salmon and Cocoa Sandwiches).

At £33 per person, however (£41 with Champagne), it also isn’t the cheapest of ways to chow down.

So what do you get for your money?

Well, there’s a comfortable seat in the opulent Park Lane Hotel, a harpist strumming pop songs in the corner, a plate of ornate-looking savouries (filled mainly with meat and fish), plus fine Loose Leaf Tea poured from silver pots.

The main event – the Scones and handcrafted Desserts – are also extremely stylish, with Chocolate running through the whole affair.

I enjoyed gobbling up the three Scones (Plain, Chocolate, and Chocolate Chip), which were fresh and still warm, albeit quite small.

The Raspberry and Chocolate Jam went down a treat as well – though I can’t say I could taste the Choc in the Lemon and White Chocolate Curd.

The Desserts looked both immaculate and enticing. However, sharing each one between two proved to be very messy, and meant that the final mouthfuls were rather too miniature for my liking.

In general, I found myself craving more.

More of the Passion Fruit Mousse, with its solid White Chocolate flower.

More of the silky Coconut Mousse (a luxurious lovechild of Teacake and Bounty).

I especially wanted more of the Raspberry Cheesecake Bombe: the gorgeous round pink Chocolate shell, which was filled with a Raspberry froth.

But, alas, it was not to be.

Instead, at the end of the Tea, my blood sugar quota was filled with a taster of three new Thorntons Truffles – plus an edible Chocolate name tag to take home.

The verdict then?

Undoubtedly sleek, a definite treat, but, at times, far too petite.

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The Pud-Hog’s Pud of the Year: Top 10 Pudding Producers.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the Pud-Hog Blog – and I was so caught up in those Cape Town desserts, I blooming well let it pass by.

A BELATED HOGGAVERSARY TO YOU ALL!

To celebrate, I’ll be looking back over the past year of tasty Pud-Hog treats (now in the two-hundreds, last time I counted), and presenting the best of the bunch.

To kick things off, here’s my Top 10 Pudding Producers; a handful of excellent companies that have caught my eye, with various ranges of sweet treats guaranteed to make you drool.

These are by no means one-hit wonders, folks: they’re places for Pud-Hog pilgrims (and no – they’re not all in London)…

10. Chococo

Luvly Jubilee

Why? Chococo is an excellent Chocolate company which sells all manner of gorgeous goodies, using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. Their flavours are pretty exciting too – think Truffles filled with Molasses, or even Stinging Nettle Ale(!)

Where? They have a factory/shop/cafe in Swanage (you can order things from their website too).

Try: the Chocolate Cream Tea (Chocolate Scones with Dulce de Leche and Clotted Cream); one of their Ice Cream Sundaes (drowning in homemade Chocolate Sauce).

9. Konditor and Cook

K&C Brownies

Why? Though slightly pricier than the average bakery, the range and quality of their cakes is more than worth the money. Indulgent and full of all the right flavours.

Where? K&C has numerous shops in London town – their store at Borough Market is always buzzing.

Try: their Brownies (to my mind, the best in London); Pumpkin Pie; the Curly Whirly Cake (a must for Cream Cheese Addicts).

8. Gatineau

Any more colour and we'd have gone blind...

Why? This could well be the best patisserie outside of France: it always smells divine, their cakes and pastries are made fresh and onsite – and their less fancy pastries are very good value for money.

Where? Gatineau has a popular store in Summertown, Oxford.

Try: a bag of Macaroons (especially the Passionfruit and Raspberry/Chocolate varieties); the Chocolate and Almond Brioche (phwoar).

7. Kooky Bakes

Salt Caramel Whoopie Pie

Why? Big, bold, fun exciting and – above all – very American. Kooky Bakes make a damn fine cake – and their textures are superb.

Where? You’ll find the Kooky Bakes stall at various London markets (take a look at their website for details). They also have a few things in the Selfridge’s Food Hall.

Try: the one and only Kooky Slice (a crazy riot of goo, crunch, salt and sweet); the Salted Caramel Whoopee Pie.

6. The Bakery Cafe

Bakery Cafe Cakes

Why? The atmosphere in the cafe is great and the cakes are even greater, not only in terms of taste. The Fruit Scone and Bun are particularly huge – best of the bunch for value, hands down.

Where? At the top of the main drag in Sherborne, Dorset.

Try: the Chocolate and Caraway Brownie (OMG it’s good); the aforementioned Scone and Bun (you probably won’t need to eat for the rest of the day).

5. Pistachio Rose

High Chai Platter

Why? Refined and flavourful Indian-fusion products: like nothing else you’ve ever tasted.

Where? Some of their products are stocked at Fortnum and Mason. They also do markets (keep an eye on the website for details).

Try: the Shortbread Hearts (so crisp!); the Fig and Dark Chocolate Naan (so chewy!); any one of their super-dense Chocolate Tarts (Out. Of. This. WORLD).

4. Paul A. Young

Aquariva

Why? Mr Young is a stickler for authentic flavours: if a Truffle’s supposed to taste like Malt Loaf, you can be sure that’s what you’ll get. Their range transforms on a regular basis and is always full of surprises (Pea and Mint? Port and Stilton?) The only downside is the price – this is the upper end of luxury.

Where? There are three main stores in London, all filled to the brim with Chocolate (stop by in Soho, Islington, or Bank).

Try: spiced Aztec Hot Chocolate; the award-winning Salted Caramel Truffle; the Marmite Truffle; the PB&J Truffle (the Pud-Hog’s personal fave).

3=3. Sorbitium/La Grotta Ices

Greengage and Hazelnut Custard Crumble

Why? It’s a cop-out to tie them, I know, but each one of these Ice Cream and Sorbet makers is just as awesome as the other: both use incredible flavour combos, and numerous British ingredients that are all-too-seldom seen. Think Cobnuts, Quinces, Damsons – whatever’s in season (and tasty).

Where? For La Grotta Ices, head to the Spa Terminus Market in Bermondsey on Saturday (9am to 2pm). Sorbitium can be found in various London markets (you know the drill: check their website).

Try: if you can get it, go for Dark Chocolate and Chipotle Chilli; Greengage and Hazelnut Custard Crumble (both Sorbitium); Toasted Hazelnut Brittle; Pine Nut and Candied Orange Cedrat Choc Ice (mmm – both La Grotta).

2. Honey and Co

Chocolate Sandwich

Why? Their goodies are all made onsite and they are WONDERFUL. Cost-wise, they’re generally located towards the dearer end of the market – though are not nearly as pricey as some.

These puddings aren’t your normal restaurant fare, but decadent and delicious, with a Middle-Eastern bent. They change their menu regularly too – always a good sign.

Where? Their small cafe was established on Warren Street earlier this year.

Try: the Cold Cheese Cake (a fruity, nutty nest made with Honey and chopped Almonds); the Chocolate Sandwich with Peanut Butter (extremely dense and rich); the Chocolate and Hazelnut Loaf (a goo bonanza).

1. Outsider Tart

Outsider Tart Stall

Why? These are some of the most imaginative guys around, with a no-holds-barred approach to baking. Chunky, unpretentious, usually bursting with Chocolate… I’m not talking about myself here, but the numerous Brownies and Cookies in their repertoire (one which appears to expand by the day).

It’s the only market stall I can’t help but run to, just to see what new creations they’ve invented. Pecans, White Chocolate, Strawberries, Whisky, Oreos, Marshmallows, Oats, Caramel – all feature on a regular basis.

Comforting, filling (and frequently naughty), if I could, I’d eat their products every day.

Where? Catch them at the Southbank Real Food Festival (look for the jostling crowd of people), or at their shop in Chiswick.

Try: walking past without buying anything (trust me, you won’t be able to). The Pud-Hog’s favourites so far include the Congo Bar (a medley of Chocolate Peanuts and Cookie Dough), the Apple and Whisky Pop Tart (served warm with a dusting of sugar), and the Mile High Bar (beats an aeroplane tryst every time).

Review: The Bakery Cafe.

A snapshot of Dorset’s most priviliged diners

I need to move to Sherborne. Pronto. I need to live near the Bakery Cafe.

That place is everything your friendly neighbourhood eatery should be: welcoming, warm, and full of wonderful things to gorge on.

Think bowls of golden homemade Muesli, communal tables decked out with Butter and Jam, as much toasted home-baked bread as you like, and a bakery stuffed with all manner of super-fresh treats.

On our recent visit, seduced by the sights in the window, the Man and I shared a Scone and a Bun – both of which were, quite frankly, blooming massive.

So massive, in fact, they could not be confined by a plate

The Scone would have been the biggest I’d seen were it not for those mutants in Ditchling I wrote about back in January. Even so, it was easily the size of a large clenched fist – Hulk Hogan’s perhaps, or Goliath’s.

Inside was a colourful riot of fruit: not just your average Sultanas, but cubes of Dried Apricot too.

I slathered my half in Butter, enjoying the various textures (a topping of toasted flaked Almonds – YUM) and marvelling that it had cost only five pence more than that controversially tiny specimen bought from the sewing cafe in Bristol.

Our Bun was a bargain £2 as well and turned out to be similarly juicy, with plump Sultanas, sticky white Icing and buttery Cinnamon innards (the core of which were scoffed by the Man before I could punch him hard enough).

Though not nearly as gooey or cloud-like as Cinnabon, it was nevertheless pretty soft, with a pleasant yeasty undertone that made it feel far more wholesome.

However, as undeniably flavoursome and exciting as both these Cakes were, a spontaneously-bought Chocolate Brownie was what really won me over.

First Place! Now collect your prize in my stomach…

We were already stuffed and on our way out, but as the last slice it instantly caught my eye, being larger than a single portion, yet not large enough for dividing. I took it away, convinced it had earned its £2 price on size alone.

But the taste, dear Ogglers – the taste!

This was no ordinary Chocolate concoction, but a special slab laced with Fennel and Caraway Seeds.

Goodness, it was delicious: not soft, but crisp and chewy – not to mention being moist in the extreme. Combined, these attributes made it one of the most exciting textures I’ve tried (and, believe me, I’ve tried a lot).

As for that flavour, who knows how much Butter had entered the mix, but the taste it gave out was superb. Salty, dense, sweet, spiced – it was, in a word or three, MY PERFECT BROWNIE (needs capping-up, don’t you think?).

Seriously. I almost moved house there and then. And, as we walked back to the station, I wondered why people were buying Cakes anywhere else.

People of Sherborne: you don’t know how lucky you are.

The Jersey Black Butter Cream Tea (and a Slice of Homemade Banoffee).

Elusive – but worth the wait?

Oh, the wondrous food you find when you travel to pastures new…

Take Black Butter, for instance. Ever heard of it?

Until our trip to Jersey, I hadn’t a clue what it was, let alone that such a thing existed.

If you’d asked me to guess, I’d have said it was something savoury – Butter rolled in Charcoal perhaps, or studded with chunks of Peppercorn.

But, as it happens, Black Butter is nothing like that. For starters, it’s sweet. And – perhaps surprisingly – it doesn’t contain any Butter at all: instead it’s made from Apples, Cider, Sugar, and numerous warming spices including Liquorice and Cinnamon.

Traditionally made to finish the glut of Apples left over from making Cider, it’s now somewhat of a luxury product (taking, as it does, up to 30 hours of constant stirring to create).

If you happen to be an insomniac with an orchard or two at hand, the Slow Food website has a recipe for the stuff here (very slow food, indeed…) There’s even an annual Black Butter making event – run by the National Trust – during which you can spend the night cooking it all.

However, having come too late in the year to join in – and not wanting to sacrifice 30 hours of our lives attempting the feat on our own – the Man and I made it our mission to seek out Black Butter in all the tea rooms we encountered.

Now, if I was a Jersey tea room owner, I’d make it my business to use as much Black Butter as I could. It’s unusual, after all – and tourists (like me and the Man) naturally want to try local things while they’re in the right place to do so.

Alas, it seemed, great minds did not think alike: for whatever reason, Black Butter was thin on the ground.

So elusive was the stuff, I started to think we had stumbled across a conspiracy; that perhaps the people who make Black Butter had committed some sort of heinous crime, and been excluded from every single bakery and cafe.

Even Holme Grown – providers of that impressive Gâteau St Honoré – had not a single smidgen of the stuff in either their shop or their cafe.

My craving for a Black Butter – namely in Cream Tea form – was looking increasingly like it would stay unsated.

But wait! Is that…?

It is! Yet another garden centre complex riding gallantly to the rescue!

This time it was Ransoms in St Martin – a place where you can buy freshly baked Cakes along with your sacks of manure.

And there, quite clearly, on the menu? The option of a Scone with Black Butter and Clotted Cream.

Score!

I ordered myself one pronto – only £1.50 to take away – and galloped out into the car park, thrilled at having finally found my Jersey Holy Grail.

And you know what? It was lovely.

Once again, the garden centre posse had really come up trumps.

My Scone was soft and fresh – and the Black Butter went so well with it, I was baffled all the more that most other tea rooms had not followed suit.

Imagine Christmas in jam form: cosy, zingy, spiced and warming. Then slather it all with a layer of rich Clotted Cream, to mellow the whole thing out. Superb.

There was room to be superber, mind. One half of the Scone was spread with normal Butter – I’d have much preferred Clotted Cream there instead (why sully a Clotted Cream Scone with your average fare?).

I also have mixed feelings about using Fruit Scones with Jams or Preserves: it seems like too much sweetness to me.

Overall though, it was lovely and exciting. And, for the record, the Man completely disagreed about the Fruit Scone/Jam debacle.

Still, as he’s Sultana obsessed, I was quite ready to ignore him.

Until I saw he’d bought something tasty to share…

Oh Ransoms, you are really spoiling us!

Seriously, what a coup this place turned out to be! Two excellent homemade Cakes in a single Jersey eatery!

I mean, I know it looks rather messy as Banoffee Pie goes – but in fairness it had been in a bicycle pannier for half an hour before it emerged.

Besides, it was AWESOME: a rich and buttery Biscuit base, lashings of sloppy Caramel, and Whipped Cream studded with Chocolate.

Good times, eh, Ogglers? A Black Butter Scone and a Banoffee Bonus.

You’d think we’d be full but our next stop was fresh, homemade doughnuts.

The hogging, it seemed, was now in full swing.

The Smallest Scone in Bristol?

Blink and you’ll miss it

What can you buy for £1.95?

I can think of a few things, even in this day and age: several bars of Fudge; 300g of broken Chocolate; a rather nice box of Free Range Eggs; a slice of Hungarian Strudel

For most of these things, you would even have change left over – and jolly good too, I might add.

In some places, however, £1.95 doesn’t get you much. Of course, in high-end stores like Harrods or Paul A. Young, this is just what you’d expect. But in your average cafe, when all you want is a takeaway buttered Scone? Well, for £1.95 you would hope it to be fairly decent.

Alas, this wasn’t the case in Cordial & Grace, a ‘Sewing Cafe’ situated in Clifton.

We found the place on our mission to scout out the tastiest cakes in Bristol – a mission which started at the Primrose Cafe (the intriguing creations of which I wrote about yesterday). Inside, chalked up on a blackboard, were a few words that caught my eye: ‘Treacle and Oat Scones.’

Now, last time I had a Treacle-based scone, it was served to me by a huge cheery chap in Dorset, who’d cooked up the beasts with Ginger and Clotted Cream. They were incredible – the stuff of legend – but the next time we sought them out his shop had gone.

Rumours began that the man had died from eating too much Clotted Cream. I like to think his Scones were just too perfect for this world…

However, as I’m sure you will have guessed by now, the same cannot be said for the Scones sold at Cordial & Grace.

The flavour, indeed, was promising, and – I thought – would be great as a lunchtime snack for our walk over Clifton Bridge.

There were none on display when we entered the shop, but I put my faith in the concept of Treacly goodness and asked if I could have one to go. The lady behind the counter seemed surprised – I guess it’s not a question they get asked that often – and said it would be £4 for two with all the trimmings (Cream and Jam) plus a Hot Drink.

But how much for a single buttered Scone?

That’s right, Ogglers – you’re way ahead of me. The price was £1.95.

I suppose I’d expected to pay about £1.50, so it was a little more than I had hoped. Not off-puttingly so though – especially given the new and exciting flavour.

I handed over my savings and waited for it to appear.

As soon as it did, my heart sank.

Wrapped in a layer of greaseproof paper was by far the smallest Scone I’ve ever bought – so small, it fit roomily into the palm of my hand, weighing no more than a thin slice of Bread.

I’ve had nosebleeds that were bigger. I almost had one then, in fact.

However, as usually happens in such situations, a typical English awkwardness took hold. Even the lady who sold it seemed mildly embarrassed. But instead of complaining, or commenting on its underwhelming size, I gave my thanks and scurried away.

Outside, the anger kicked in:

How can they justify charging so much? For a TAKEAWAY?!

It’s TINY!

I can’t believe I bought it without checking how big it was first.

Stupid Pud-Hog! Stupid, stupid, STUPID!

I could have got a SANDWICH for that, goddamnit.

I could have made a whole frigging TRAY for less!

Amidst this sudden shower of rage, the Man tried to soothe me with a few suggestions, one of which was taking it back for a refund.

Can you really take a buttered Scone back for a refund though, Ogglers?

I doubted it.

Besides, who wants to go into a quiet Clifton Tea Room and argue about the size of a Scone?

Not me.

So saddled with this saddening little specimen (the Scone, I mean, not the Man), I stomped my way towards Clifton Bridge and let the views calm me down.

An hour or so later, I was able to take a more positive look at the situation. After all, I still hadn’t tried it. What if it was amazing? What if it was the tastiest thing to have ever passed my lips?

If that was the case, then £1.95 would be a mere drop in the ocean. For the most special Scone I would pay twice that – maybe even more.

By the time it came to eating it, a great deal rode on the outcome.

So how, then, did it come out?

As you already know, I was not overly impressed.

The flavour was pleasant but nothing fantastic. I could taste the Flour almost as strongly as Oats or Treacle.

Texturally, too, it was good – but no better than I could have cooked up at home. Worse still, it was gone in about three bites.

Diet-size? Maybe.

£1.95-size? Unfortunately not.

A Jubilicious Chocolate Cream Tea.

Some of you might have noticed that there’s been a bit of fuss in the UK over the past few days – something about the Queen and sixty years? Whatever. It is not the job of this blog to stay up to date with current affairs. Currant buns, maybe, but not the news. Unless it has some bearing on puddings…

Oh, all right then. The Queen’s 60th Jubilee is kind of important. But only because it led to one of the most gorgeous cream teas I’ve had on this tiny isle: a Jubilee Tea from my favourite shop in the Kingdom of Dorset, Chococo.

For those who don’t know it – and who’ve missed my past musings on the subject (see here and here) – Chococo is that wonderful combination of chocolate-shop-cum-tea-room, based in Swanage and faithful to the principles of hand-made, ethical, local, scrumptious treats. When I heard that they were doing a one-off Jubilee Tea for Bank Holiday, I bought my tickets immediately.

Suddenly, all these Royal Celebrations seemed like an awfully good idea.

Luvly Jubilee!

For the bargainous sum of just ten pounds – TEN! – the Man and I were treated to two-tiers of drool-inducing goodies, and a couple of the tastiest dark hot chocolates I have had since Jaz and Jul’s came to town.

Twas a menu fit for a Queen – not to mention her most porcine of subjects. In the savoury category, Coronation Chicken (duly eaten by my carniverous ally), and Egg and Cress Cucumber Tarlets did the job superbly. But then – then! – came dessert:

  • Mini Madagascan Chocolate Chip Scones with Cherry Jam and Clotted Cream
  • A Chocolate Mousse Crown with Fruit and Popping Candy
  • Dubonnet and Juniper Chocolates
  • A Lemon Fairycake
  • A Strawberry Meringue filled with White Chocolate and Creme Fraiche
  • Sea Salt and Caramel Ganache Tartlets

It. Was. Stupendous.

The fairycake: so fresh and zingy. The Tartlets: crispy shortbread-like pastry, cuddling smooth pools of caramel. As for the Dubonnet and Juniper Chocolates? Cor. I felt like Christmas had come early.

Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed my Chocolate Scones as well (something they routinely serve in the Chococo cafe). In fact, let’s be honest, they make so much more sense than studding a scone with sultanas. As does the concept of a Chocolate Crown, now I come to think about it (all these years, I thought pastry was the best way to encase a mousse. What a fool I was).

As I’m sure you can imagine, it was hard to choose a favourite, but – if hard-pressed – I think I would have plumped for the meringue. Fruit and white chocolate will always float my boat (or River Pageant), especially when the texture is so moreish…

Mmm.

Roused by a newfound sense of patriotism we polished it off in no time, wishing we’d both had a cakestand each.

I just hope we don’t have to wait sixty years for the next one.

Frankly, even ten is pushing it.

The Mega Scone.

On Sunday we went to a tea room for lunch – a little place out in the countryside. I wasn’t expecting there to be much on offer; just a few cakes and sandwiches maybe. So imagine my surprise when we stumbled across the biggest scones I have ever seen.

I know I’m sometimes prone to exaggeration, but believe me when I say: these scones were ENORMOUS. Not just larger than average, but practically mutant-sized. Bigger than a baby’s head even – the equivalent of about four normal scones if you want a more accurate estimate.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, they were selling these monsters in FIVE different flavours. Alongside the regular types (plain and sultana) were elderflower (whaaat?), strawberry (surely not!) and blueberry (OH MY GOD). I couldn’t get my mouth around one fast enough.

Unfortunately, there was a downside: they were just too large to eat without sharing. No way could I manage to taste them all. I did try my hardest to pester the Man into ordering strawberry or elderflower, but I should have saved my energy. He stuck to the tried-and-tested path of sultana. FOOL. Luckily, my mum was keen on blueberry, so I at least got to sample one of the more unconventional flavours.

They turned out to be quite tasty too, although if I’m honest that’s by the by. The spectacle of the thing – the sheer sconey volume – was enough to keep me satisfied.

Now, I know that quality is of course extremely important – but let’s be clear: it’s so much nicer to have a great deal of it. Right?