Sunday, 18 May 2014


I do enjoy a cooking challenge and will often opt for the fiddliest of recipes. So, for this year's World Baking Day, this choux pastry virgin decided to take the plunge.

Whilst I am certainly no Eric Lanlard or Antoine Carême in the kitchen, I fancied trying my hand at a Croquembouche, the towering French dessert made of elegantly stacked profiteroles, fused together with caramel. I thought that with some patience and a steady hand, that it couldn't really be that difficult. Could it?!

Rather than following one version, I decided to do my own mash-up of various recipes scattered across the web. Delia's Choux pastry recipe was easy, Raymond Blanc's Crème Patissière recipe was also easy (especially after I put my stamp on it by adding some Cointreau) and the Caramel was easier still. Put all three together and we're rocking and rolling, non!

I rattled around very happily in the kitchen all morning. My Crème Patissière was a triumphant concoction of creamy dreaminess, my golden choux pastry was perfect and light as air and my caramel, a glistening pot of luminous amber. Everything was going swimmingly.

I know you're waiting for it baking chums, so here is the twist in the tale. Maybe I said easy, easy, easy far too quickly. Several hours in and it was time to bring all the magical components of the croquembouche together. Caramel-burnt fingers, soggy bottoms, deflating choux puffs and oozing custard are what followed. 

After using the caramel to build the tower, I had intended to clothe it in golden swathes of finely spun sugar but at that point, my saucepan of caramel had begun to look more like an angry, bubbling tar pit and certainly didn't appear to be up for the job.

Pressing on, I placed my nude Croquembouche on a stand, barely having enough time to style it up, giving it a rose to protect its modesty and throwing a few spare profiteroles at it to hide some dodgy bits.

Alas, my efforts were in vain. Momentarily after I taking this picture, my beloved Croquembouche took a deep sigh, leaned to the left, dramatically muttered the words "I love you all" and then flopped over in an exhausted pile.

I'm sure you'll all be greatly relieved to hear, that I emerged the other side of a monumental pile of pots and pans with custard in my hair and a only a few minor caramel burns. It goes without saying that I shall be parading these like victory scars over the coming week. 

I am still pretty pleased with my first attempt. Whilst it may not be thing of great beauty, I have made a Croquembouche. Even if, it only stood upright for five minutes.

Happy World Baking Day!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

At Blooming Last

Five years in the making and at last the Winter’s Bark tree (or Drimys winterii) in our garden has graced us with flowers. Not just any old flower but gorgeous little pendulous bunches of powdery white blooms, hanging in the daintiest of fashions that swing and giggle in the slightest breeze.

Up until now, the plant had been a little Snoresville but I am told that with age its beauty improves no end. I should expect the flowering to multiply year on year producing great heavenly clouds of shimmying inflorescences and for its aromatic and medicinal bark to take on a rich mahogany tone.

Apparently, it was an infusion of this very bark that enabled Cook and Drake to remedy scurvy on their ocean voyages. Not that I am planning to embark on any nautical adventures on the high seas right now but I do like to pair up random nuggets of botanical trivia with many of the plants that we grow at Magical Manor.

For now, the dancing blooms are a welcome addition of fun to the late Spring garden before la grande saison de jardinage kicks off.  Hope you've got your hats and sunglasses ready, Summer is but a short hop, skip and jump away folks.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Ready, Steady, Bake!

Sleeves rolled up, pinnies on, preheat your ovens, grease those baking trays and stand by your island units people, I have a date for your diaries. The 18th May is World Baking Day!

Last year I attempted a savoury Pinwheel Tarte and a Marbled Black Sesame Japanese Baked Cheesecake. Both were equally delicious even though they didn't quite go according to plan.

World Baking Day is an opportunity to try my hand at something that I wouldn't normally dare attempt. I have several options that I am keeping under wraps until the big day, some of which are very simple and some of which could be an absolute recipe for disaster but that’s all part of the fun.

So, I would like to encourage all those that have a desire to get coated in flour and a secret penchant to fling batter around the kitchen to join in. Whether you bake for your family, friends or colleagues is totally up to you.

 All images via Pinterest

Savoury or Sweet, Muffins or Pies, Gateaux or Tarts, Low Fat or Gluten Free, Family Favourites or Granny’s Secret Recipe, you decide. 

You can even up the ante and try both a sweet and savoury dish, so long as one element of your dish is baked.

I will be revealing my attempts on the 18th May. I hope you can pop along and let us know if you are going to take part too, so that we can all visit your blog to see what wonderful yumminess you have created.

An extra special sticky bun goes to the clever clogs that correctly guesses what I'm baking!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Through The Twisted Glass

Most of us will be familiar with Dale Chihuly’s glass chandeliers. They can be seen on the ceilings of hotels and museum foyers the world over, often in the form of writhing translucent cephalopods with illuminated tentacles.

The creations that emerge from his studios have always fascinated me. The highly skilled craftsmanship required from his team is both very physical and labour intensive. Individual molten glass pieces being worked upon can weigh up to a staggering 40lbs, not to mention dealing with the intense heat of the roaring furnaces.

Up until now my favourite pieces were his javelin shards of coloured glass which have punctured many a botanical garden across the globe and his sea form ceiling installations, as shown to great effect in the foyer of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

His current exhibition at London’s Halcyon Gallery, showcases a collection of his renowned signature pieces displayed alongside some new gelatinous receptacles with which I was not familiar. Organic in structure, the amorphous vessels almost look as if they would ripple in the slightest breeze. Reflections become distorted as you peer through the glass to glimpse a view of a Carollesque world in which Alice would have been at home.

I've already visited the gallery several times whilst passing by recently. The playfulness in his work evokes that feeling of otherworldly, childhood adventures. So, if you too are a fan of magical journeys, therapeutic daydreaming and engaging your inner child, then get yourself along to the exhibition, it really is far out!

Dale Chihuly - Beyond the Object
Extended until 18th May 2014
Halcyon Gallery
144-146 New Bond St