Friday, 13 April 2012

It's never too early for Afternoon Tea...

As we all know Afternoon Tea has it's origins back in the 1800's when they just had breakfast and supper - no elevenses, lunch break or 3pm coffee break back then - which is why Afternoon Tea was created.

Now that we've taken Afternoon Tea into the 21st century it seems it's a luxury that can only be afforded between 2pm and 6pm. So imagine my delight when I found the Airy Fairy Cupcake Boutique who start their Afternoon Tea from 11am!

Based in the rather lovely village of Didsbury, the Airy Fairy Cupcake Boutique is as cute as it sounds, with vintage paraphernalia everywhere (and for sale), gorgeous bunting, cake stands, pretty oilcloth table cloths and most importantly a seriously delicious range of cup cakes....

As with most places you have to book your Afternoon Tea at least 24hours in advance. However, there are also plenty of other cakes baked daily and they are renowned for their chocolate brownies, which I can confirm are possibly the most delicious brownies I've ever tasted!

So, going back to the "what time is appropriate to have Afternoon Tea" question, I think with a selection like this, we should certainly move it forward - Afternoon Tea at lunchtime! We had enough food to keep us going all day long! It's no mean feat to get through smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheese and salad, cream cheese and cucumber and ham and mustard sandwiches, followed by chocolate dipped strawberries, hazelnut macaroons, mini chocolate brownies and mini victoria sponge cakes.

Of course there were scones too - what Afternoon Tea would be complete without them! Fruit scones and plain scones were the order of the day, with jam and clotted cream.

For the Tea Room Taste Test I can't fault the Airy Fairies - everything tasted absolutely fantastic - that real home-made-ness about everything, and we were stuffed to the brim, so it was definitely not lacking in quantity either.

There is an option to have any cakes boxed up to take home - but we decided there was a danger of having to actually share the cakes with other halves once we got home - when it comes to cake I don't like to share!!

When you get a close up of how lovely these cakes are, you would totally understand why sharing is not an option!

I am already looking forward to a trip back to Airy Fairy Cupcake Boutique whether it's for another Afternoon Tea (at lunchtime) or just to buy some of their lovely cakes and chocolate brownies.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Having your cake and eating it....

As I was in London Village, for the Ideal Home Show (see last blog with lots of pics of Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen), it seemed only right and proper to pay a visit to The Hummingbird Bakery.

I have the Hummingbird baking book, I admire the cupcake pictures on the website, so the only thing to do next was sample a cake. Oh my, were their cakes goooooooood!! As you may be aware, I've tried a lot of cakes!! But these were like magic, and that is not an exaggeration (dare I say it, even better than Magnolia Bakery, NYC, and all the nostalgia that comes with it)!!

I opted to break into a brand spanking new vanilla sponge cake - it's like that moment when you get to be the first person to walk on fresh snow, and leave your mark!! My mark in the vanilla sponge was probably actually bigger than my footprint in the snow....

Yes, that giant bermuda triangle in the cake was my slice - and worth every penny!! I struggled on, in a Man v. Food style challenge to taste every crumb on my plate...

It's a tough job trying these cake shops, but I don't want you to be disillusioned by any cake shop, so I feel it is my duty to tell you about all the great ones out there, and The Hummingbird Bakery is way more than great!!

Apart from the fact that the portion sizes were massive, to say the least, the sponge was light and fluffy and the vanilla frosted topping was creamy, glittery, and actually not too sickly.

So I think it's time for me to dust off my Hummingbird Bakery book and get baking, and hope that my vanilla sponge cake might taste even a fraction as amazing as the actual bakery!

Hands up who wants a slice...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Then there was one.....

As I mentioned in my blog the other week, I made it to the final of Wallpaper Design of the Year, at the Ideal Home Show, and Monday was D-Day for finding out the winner.

The Ideal Home Show is a pretty spectacular exhibition, with 2 floors of DIY, home decorating, gardening, baking, restaurants - you name it, it was probably in Earls Court!

The ever flamboyant (and actually rather amusing) Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen was introducing the finalists and their work, and then naming the overall winner of the competition. Each of us taking it in turns to go up onto the stage and talk to him about the designs we'd created.

Jane, who is doing the same Surface Pattern Design E-course as me, was up first...

Jane's design was a beautiful array of colours - very much in the style of the fabrics she designs, which you can see on her website

Then it was my turn - never has my stomach somersaulted so much - I'm sure it could have been a contender for the 2012 olympic gymnastics!!!

The winner was finally named as Lollie Dunbar, with a design of rabbits and trees (which, unfortunately I didn't get a picture of, but it will be available on

All the finalists designs were equally fantastic - each design so completely different. Pictured below (rather blurred) are all the finalists - with the winner, Lollie, in the middle.

From left to right - Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen (as if you needed telling), Me, Jane, Lollie, Eve, Sally and Tom (from

It was a lovely atmosphere, and it was great to meet the other finalists, and hopefully a great start to a career in surface pattern design. But with the sun shining it was time to head off into the outdoors and pay a visit to The Hummingbird Bakery, but that's a whole new blog....

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Teacups and cakes

I couldn't have been happier when arranging a meeting the other day, and the lady I had to meet suggested a place in Manchester called Teacup and Cakes (on Thomas Street).

The fact that there were cakes mentioned in the name of the shop excited me already, but I hadn't seen anything yet!!!

Teacup and Cakes is in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, just around the corner from the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, down Thomas Street. From the outside it looks quite unassuming - red facias and a few metal chairs and tables, but when you get inside it opens up into an amazing, bohemian feeling tearoom.

Owned by the creators of 'Make us a brew', this tearoom is full of the 'Make us a brew' paraphernalia - which is a brand lovers dream!

It might sound a bit bonkers, but for a few moments, I felt like I was transported to a cafe in Little Italy, NYC. The buildings, the atmosphere, the fantastic cakes and I LOVE the fact that you can watch the masters at work - decorating all the amazing cakes.

And that's all before you get to the "tea experience". Never before have I been handed a timer, by which to time the brewing of the leaves, and then decant said brew into another pot, through a strainer. This is serious tea drinking!

There is an option of afternoon tea - but as our meeting was in the morning I didn't manage to get to try it. However, as it's never to early for cake, I opted for the victoria sponge cake. It was my own mini victoria sponge cake and I'm sure the cream in the middle was clotted cream - it certainly tasted that delicious!!

For all the loveliness of the cakes though, the fact that I missed out on an afternoon tea just gives me a great excuse to go back - not that I ever need an excuse for a spot of afternoon tea :)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Edible Walls...

I didn't realise how much I actually like cake, until last weekend, while out with the family for a birthday lunch, and we were talking about an impending holiday. The holiday includes a trip to Valletta in Malta, at which point I excitedly exclaimed I would be visiting the cake shop there! 

The cake shop that I mention, I last visited on a trip to Malta approximately 23 years ago (crikey that makes me feel old!) Yet the memory of said cake shop is as fresh in my mind today as it was back in 1989.

As I sat there in the restaurant, with the rest of the family, reminiscing about this cake shop - in the far left corner of the square courtyard in Valletta, with it's pink and white floor tiles and huge glass cases full cakes (I even remember being mildly disappointed that I'd gone with the vanilla slice rather than the victoria sponge), my brother pointed out that I clearly had a bit of an obsession with cakes! "I thought I liked cakes, but, seriously, I have no recollection of the cake shop - your obsessed" were his words.

Clearly I have cakes on the brain (and probably in my subconscious mind too). This cake obsession also reared its (not-so-ugly) head when designing some patterns for a Surface Pattern course I'm working on. Courtesy of and

I entered the competition for Ideal Home Show to design some wallpaper, and, amazingly, was shortlisted for the final 5!!! Guess what the pattern involved.......Cakes.....

Needless to say "chuffed" is an understatement. But, if it wasn't for Rachael & Beth I never would have become so involved in pattern design, and I most certainly wouldn't have entered the Ideal Home Show Wallpaper Design Competition. 

The winner for the competition of Wallpaper Designer 2012 is announced on 26th March. Whether I win or not, to be shortlisted is a fantastic achievement, so celebratory cake is definitely the order of the day! Now comes the hard part - victoria sponge or lemon drizzle?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Tea for Two...

As a totally self-proclaimed 'expert' on Afternoon Tea, I jumped at the chance to whizz down the M62; off at Junction 30 to the beautiful Oulton Hall. Only a stones throw from the motorway, but a world away from anywhere once we turned into the drive.

We were booked into The Drawing Room/Library for Afternoon Tea - which is just as grand and elaborate as it sounds. Previously a stately family home back in the 19/20th century, with high ceilings, beautiful cornices, fireplaces and stunning ironwork on the staircases. 

Decked out in my Sunday best, the only way I can describe my anticipation and excitement, was like that of an eight year old after too much fizzy pop! The grandeur and surroundings just added to the expectation of what the Afternoon Tea would be like. With an extensive choice of teas we were spoilt for choice, so we plumped for the Oulton Blend - a blend of leaves created especially for the hotel, by Taylors of Harrogate. Tea was served in silverware, and lovely heritage china tea cups and saucers...

The three tiered stand was as big as a small child, yet the cute delicate sandwiches, pastries, cakes and scones were certainly not dwarfed by it! The selection of sandwiches consisted of salmon, cream cheese, ham and mustard and egg and spring onion mayonnaise – triangle AND finger sandwiches, this was afternoon tea heaven and I hadn't even got to the cakes.

The small but perfectly formed cakes were delicious. Fruit tart with a raspberry mousse, rockie road, chocolate cupcake - you name it, it was there! 

Fruit cake served with creamy chunks of Wensleydale, and what afternoon tea would be complete without scones… But being in the "rhubarb triangle" it was wholly appropriate that we should have Rhubarb and Cherry scones!

As if all of that wasn't enough the staff were attentive to every single person in that room - which is no mean feat when it was virtually full! Topping up tea pots, helping older visitors around the hotel, plus having a mind full of information and knowledge about the hotel and it's history.

Apparently, before Oulton Hall became a hotel it had been a field hospital during WWI and WWII, and then a mental institute! I'm told the cellar used to have padded cells, and there's chance of a few ghostly meetings down there!!! Most Haunted anyone?

With the option of champagne afternoon tea - in the champagne bar, leisure facilities and a spa, you could make a very special weekend of it at Oulton Hall - I'm hoping to go back in a few weeks for afternoon tea on the terrace - when the sun comes out!!

Hyacinth Bucket eat your heart out...

To book yourself a fantastic Afternoon Tea at Oulton Hall, just visit

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Let them eat cake...

To say that I liked cake, would probably be the understatement of the year! So it seemed quite fitting for me to join a cake club!

Last night was my first experience of The Clandestine Cake Club of Warrington! And what an experience it was - somewhere that it's not frowned upon to go a get 3 or 4 (ok, maybe 5 or 6) servings of cake - BRILLIANT! It was just like All You Can Eat Pizza Hut, but with cake!

The theme for the evening was "Doing the Continental" - cakes from all different places throughout the world. Mine was a Caribbean Coconut Cake, sitting here diligently waiting to be scoffed...

The choice of cakes was mind-bogglingly fantastic! Some made with semolina, some gluten free, there were chocolate ones, lemon ones, cream ones, raspberry ones, wine and almond ones! I know I said I liked cake, but I honestly didn't realise how much variety you could get between 21 women!

The ladies of the cake club could not be more friendlier, and I couldn't think of a nicer way to spend the evening, than with a bunch of like-minded cake loving ladies, talking cake, Mary Berry, more cake, twitter, and a bit more cake.

All washed down with plenty of tea - all thanks to Coffee au Clay in Stockton Heath, and by the end of the evening I can honestly say I had, undoubtedly, eaten too much cake - something I didn't actually think was possible! The cakes were devoured and what was left we all took home to try, not much was left behind...

The cake club meet up every couple of months, and I'm already looking forward to the next one!

If you would like to experience some of the yummy cakes that The Clandestine Cake Club ladies make, then get yourselves down to Grappenhall Cricket Club, Broad Lane on Saturday 24th March, between 2pm - 4pm, as they are raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. It's £5 per ticket (or pay on the door) and you get a cuppa and some delicious homemade cake! Not to mention the raffle, with some fantastic prizes (which also include some amazing cakes!)

For more information check out this link...