Before I came to the UK the one thing I wanted Mum to teach me to make was her gingerbread loaf. It is the stuff of dreams, not just because of the sweet ginger flavour but also because it lasts for up to a week without going weird AND it can be frozen. This gingerbread loaf is a total fixture in my mind when I think of my childhood (although Mum isn’t convinced she made it that often), those doorstop thick slabs covered in butter are the answer to almost any problem.

But even though I marched the streets of London with recipe in hand I have never successfully made it. Once a year Mum gets an enraged Skype from me about how I have failed yet again at the fail safe recipe. To be honest the numerous gingerbread loaf disasters were part me and part the UK. I always thought I knew better than the trusty recipe, changing the proportions or on one shocking occasion trying to substitute the milk/vinegar combo for buttermilk (learn from me kids, don’t do it). The UK does have a part to play in this ongoing saga however because the golden syrup over here sucks ass. It is weak watery rubbish that has as much flavour as licking the side of a London telephone box after an autumn shower.

Enter SANZA stage left. Antipodean expats in the UK will all know of SANZA, the website that has all of those treats from home that solve homesickness time and time again (INCLUDING ORIGINAL FLAVOUR BBQ SHAPES!!!!!!!!!!). SANZA offered to send me a box of goodies and to say I leapt at the opportunity was a slight understatement. They might have been slightly surprised at the first thing in my basket, because it wasn’t the Shrewsbury biscuits the Twisties or the Whittakers…it was Chelsea Golden Syrup – time for me to finally conquer the gingerbread loaf.

175 g butter                         
2 tsp baking soda
¾ C sugar                             
2 eggs
1 C golden syrup                  
1 C milk
1 T ground ginger                 
1 T vinegar
2½ C flour                                   
½ tsp cinnamon

  1. Add the vinegar to the milk & let stand to sour.
  2. Cream butter & sugar, add the syrup and beat well. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  3. Sift the flour, baking soda and spices into the mixing bowl.
  4. Gradually beat in the milk & vinegar.
  5. Pour the mixture into 2 lined loaf tins or 1 x 20cm square tin.
  6. Bake at 170°C – loaf tins for approx 50 mins, large tin for approx 1 hr 20 mins.

I was primed and ready. In preparation I put on Dave Dobbyn and ate an entire packet of BBQ Shapes, it was time for me and gingerbread loaf to become friends. This time, I had the right ingredients and I was going to follow the recipe to the letter. No exam had ever been so stressful, no relationship as high risk; but step by (totally easy why the hell had I failed before) step I went through the gingerbread loaf recipe sent over from Mum. And do you know what? I only went and bloody well did it.

My gingerbread loaf was perfect. I feasted off it for the next week and froze two mini-versions to have at a later celebration. Turns out, with SANZA to the rescue and if I actually follow the recipe, all is right in the world.

Oh and since I was on a roll I did something that I had never attempted before, I made lolly cake. I was worried that after 29 years without making it, the NZ Embassy was going to revoke my Kiwi card. Lets just say that it was a tasty few days in the Runawaykiwi house.

Fortnum and Mason scones

I shudder to think how much I have spent on afternoon tea in the last three years. It’s always been a bit of an escape for me. When I couldn’t afford to travel, an afternoon tea was that hint of luxury that I needed to refresh my faith in London. I mean afternoon tea is expensive (£30 to £60) but that is one hell of a lot cheaper than a weekend away, so an afternoon tea junkie I became. As always when you do something a lot, you become quite jaded to the entire thing, so at the start of this year I decided to stop. Why pay that much money when I was no longer enjoying the experience and just critiquing the fluffiness of the scones. That was until I got an email from Zomato asking if I wanted to take the Fortnum and Mason version for a spin…ok, one last tea.

It’s not often an afternoon tea starts with you doubled over laughing, particularly not in such a refined venue as Fortnum and Mason. I walked through the door of the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon just as the pianist started playing the Downton Abbey theme song, utter genius. I was worried that Fortnum and Mason was going to be totally up itself (there were £80 Easter eggs for sale downstairs), but hearing the theme song of that ultimate upstairs/downstairs drama totally put paid to that.

First step in any afternoon tea is to choose the tea – duh. But Fortnum was the first place that I had seen the addition of single estate teas (you pay extra for them) which means that the tea was harvested from one estate or garden rather than mixing from multiple. This also means that like an uber posh wine you can tell variances year on year, and between the same styles of different estates. I never knew I was drinking my tea like such a pleb. I now look at the store brought earl grey in my cupboard with haughty derision. And in case you are thinking that I am over exaggerate the ‘specialness’ of the Fortnum and Mason tea selection, this is a real life explanation of the drying process for one of the white teas “This tea is made from large leaf trees in Jinggu which are left to wilt under moonlight until completely dried”. WILT UNDER MOONLIGHT. Fortnum I love you.

Fortnum and Mason sweets

This was also the most chilled out afternoon tea I had been to, thinking back to the Ritz or Sketch where you are hemmed in like a multi-estate tea in a supermarket tea bag, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Room had enough space between tables that no-one would overhear your salacious gossip about the Lord and the parlour maid. And then the pianist started playing Avicii, oh god can I marry that man.

The food was on par, very traditional sandwiches and scones with some unique flavour combinations on the top tier. I loved that they kept coming over and asking if we wanted more food, and actually come to think of it when they brought over the food the waiter said “don’t worry you don’t have to share, just ask and I will bring you more”. Amazing.

And just as we were stuffed enough to roll indecorously down the stairs, the waiter came and asked if we wanted anything off the cake trolley. WE HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE CAKE TROLLY. Yes in addition to your single estate and three tiered (endlessly replaced) afternoon tea there is also a cake trolley to select from at will. Now I see why the Dowager Countess is always so hard done by, this being a toff thing is hard. We looked at the cake trolley, we did a lap of the tea room to try and fit the cake in but it was to no avail.

Lamenting the cake trolley and continuing to sing the praises of the vastly entertaining pianist we wandered out into the cold London streets. Fortnum and Mason totally surpassed my expectations, a five star London afternoon tea of course has to have perfect food but it was the calm atmosphere, friendly (not intimidating) staff and entertaining music that has ha d me raving about Fortnum and Mason ever since.

 

Sweet treats in Paris

Oh I love a good éclair. I mean what other treat would you design an entire day around? Last time I was in Paris I happened upon L’Eclair de génie the most banging éclair shop ever. The éclairs are small compared to what you get in England and seem expensive too (€5 per), but holy hell the flavours are immense.

After taking two metros to get to the St Paul L’Eclair de génie store the first problem was which delicious little jeweled treat to buy. There were about ten different choices and I had to battle with the inner blogger as to if I went with the ones that looked the prettiest or the flavours that I would actually like. No surprise given my capacity for food that the flavours won and I purchased; passion fruit and milk chocolate, raspberry cream, and mascarpone chocolate biscuit. The next problem was where to eat them?

Now last time I was here I made it about 3 meters from the shop before digging in. Hey, don’t judge they are really that good. But because I was only in Paris for a couple of days I wanted something a bit more…French. So I walked, and walked, and walked. I went from St Paul down the riverbank to the Louvre and the Tuilerie gardens. For some unbeknownst reason I decided this vista was not well suited to the flavours of eclairs so I kept on walking.

Shakespeare and Company Paris

I crossed the river and wandered down to Shakespeare and Company, the famous book shop which has served as a base for writers for 96 years (they let writers sleep in the shop in exchange for a few hours work). I couldn’t stay too long getting lost in the books, I was holding three beautiful éclairs after all.

There was only one place that would work; Notre Dame. I wandered across the love locks bridge and found a bench outside the beautiful old beast of a church. People were milling around, pick pockets were asking you to read things and one particularly dumb group of kiwi girls were asking if Notre Dame was the one who predicted the end of the world. #embarrassedtobeakiwi

L'eclair de genie the best eclairs in Paris

I put on my iPod and cranked up a bit of Rudimental and dug into the first éclair. I tried for a while to take a selfie of me eating the first éclair but it is impossible without looking like you are giving someone a blow job – sometimes its hard being a blogger.

The original intention was just to have one now and save the rest for an after dinner treat, but with the setting and the music and the crisp winter air it was just all to perfect to stop at one. So I kept going and polished off all three. I mean, when you are in Paris you just have to do these things right? My favourite by far was the mascarpone which had full chunks of chocolate amongst the cream and endless caramel sauce drizzled along the top. Sigh, can I eat these every day?

Love Locks bridge in Paris

Intercontinental Westminster afternoon tea treats

A few days before Christmas I was feeling a bit grinchy. I had tried and failed to get into Winter Wonderland (a 45 minute line just to get in!), Amazon didn’t deliver my Christmas presents in time and I hadn’t been arsed to put the Christmas tree up. To help overcome my internal grinch Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi suggested a Christmas afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Westminster.

I had a bit of a an epic journey to get there, Google took me to the wrong hotel, the tube was down and a crazy black cab driver didn’t tell me he was cash only till the of the journey and then made me pay for the privilege of going to a cash machine. But when I walked into the hotel the drama of the journey washed away and I was at a Christmasy peace.

The room was filled with beautiful Christmas trees (decorated with sugar plums, peacocks and fairies), a five person choir singing carols in the corner of the room and a glass of champagne waiting for me on the table. The only way it could have got more anti-grinch was if there had been a little drummer boy waiting to take my coat; but you know, child labour laws being what they are…

We had opted for the endless Champagne version of the afternoon tea because that is how we Kiwi blogger girls roll. So Emma and I quickly got to the important business of catching up and putting the world to rights. The sandwiches were a genuine delight, fresh bread* and tasty flavour combos. We then moved on to the scones which were slightly less of a success. Our lovely waiter told us to let him know when we were ready for scones so he could bring them out hot. But well, when they arrived the scones had the memory of warmth at the very best. They were yum, but note to Intercontinental Westminster, don’t get my hopes up about toasty hot scones if you cant deliver.

The hot eccles cakes on the other hand may be the best afternoon delight I have ever had. Melt in your mouth and the perfect combo of flaky pastry and raisins.

Intercontinental Westminster afternoon tea

The biggest downfall of the Intercontinental Westminster afternoon tea is what is normally the highlight, the top tier. The chocolate macaroon was too rich and overpowering, the thing in the shot glass we couldn’t identify (passion fruit? mango? strangely lumpy?) and the worst bit is that for £45 a head we had to share. Every other afternoon tea I have ever been to brings out enough treats so that everyone at the table can try every different cake. Or at the very least they bring out replacements as soon as they are eaten so the effect is the same. Not so much here. We either had to split the unsplitable, decapitate the snowman or miss out on some of the afternoon tea.

So all up it was a nice dose of Christmas spirit and a lovely catch up with Emma but I probably wouldn’t be back to the Intercontinental for afternoon tea.

*It amazes me how many afternoon teas go wrong on this step