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NEWS: Something Extra Special at the More London Christmas Market

10 Dec

Christmas shoppers are in for a treat this week: Shepherds Markets and More London Riverside are hosting a special Christmas Market with food, fun and Yuletide magic. Here’s the full skinny from the Shepherds Markets team:

Shake out your tinsel and dust off your baubles; Christmas is finally upon us and we’ve got everything you need to make the festive season extra special! From December 11th to15th, you can head to More London Riverside where our More London Christmas Market will showcase the finest artisan food gifts and hand-crafted presents.

With 20 different stalls each day, we’re bringing you more of everything you love at Christmas: more food, more entertainment and more unique presents! If you want to surprise your family and friends with exclusive gifts they won’t find on the high street, the More London Christmas Market is your one-stop shop!

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Fancy something inspiring for the kids? Make their faces light up with a handmade toy none of their friends will have – just one of many items available from our talented craftsmen. Need something luxurious for mum? How about a heaven-scented body cream or a beautiful pashmina (to keep her warm and on-trend this winter)? Hoping to transform turkey leftovers into appetising dishes? Try the delicious organic chutneys and sauces available from our amazing food traders.

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We know that shopping for friends who seem to have everything can be a nightmare but why not invest in an original painting or print from one of our art traders’ stunning collections? Alternatively, pull together a bespoke gift set or hamper with the aromatic oils, vinegar, speciality teas, honey and preserves on sale – a present for all the family! There will also be a range of Christmas stockings and cards to buy, as well as traditional Christmas cakes and puddings, helping you to create the perfect celebration at home.

You can tuck into hot and cold dishes from around the world while you browse our food and craft stalls, or sip a cup of warming mulled wine with a crumbly mince pie or roasted chestnuts. Local carol singers will be on hand to perform all your festive favourites and even Santa has been persuaded to fly in for a visit!

Entry is free, so there’s nothing “Bah! Humbug!” about this Christmas, only the true spirit of the season: supporting London’s most talented food and craft start-ups to bring you the finest gifts for family and friends. We can’t wait to see you at the More London Christmas Market and look forward to helping you make loved ones feel extra special.

Visit the More London Christmas Market at More London, More London Riverside, London SE1 2DB, 11am – 6pm, from Wednesday 11th to Sunday 15th December 2013.

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REVIEW: Chocolates by The Chocolatier (Aneesh Popat)

24 Oct

One of the highlights of Salon du Chocolat‘s London debut was Aneesh Popat’s impassioned talk and tasting session, introducing his exquisite chocolates and ganaches.

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Aneesh Popat at Salon du Chocolat

Applying chemistry to his art and challenging tradition – much like a certain Mr Blumenthal – Popat has quickly made a name for himself with his unorthodox techniques and experimental flavours.

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Talking chocolate with evangelical passion: Aneesh Popat

“Chocolate is a superfood and we should eat it everyday!” proclaimed the artisan chocolatier during his fervoured presentation – immediately gaining my approval and agreement. Not that I need any encouragement to partake in a daily chocolate fix: I’ve had that one down pat since I was seven!

However, I now have a reason to feel less guilty… Under the brand name of The Chocolatier, Popat produces his critically-acclaimed confectionery without any cream or butter – making them far healthier alternatives to other chocolates on the market.

Able to produce the most velvety creations using only chocolate and water (the trick is in the emulsification process and the generation of small particles), Popat’s dairy-free treats contain approximately 40% to 50% less calories than traditional chocolate. Depending on if you’re a glutton or a weight-watcher, you can choose to eat twice as much or stick to a healthy diet. I’m Team Glutton all the way!

Despite these vegan roots, the omission of dairy in no way impairs the flavour or quality of Popat’s chocolates or ganaches (believe me, my palette can detect even the slightest flaw within my fix of chocolate). In fact, so delicious are these dairy and gelatine free truffles, it’s not unusual to find them being showcased within Michelin-starred restaurants; a testament to the quality and flavour of The Chocolatier range.

Surprisingly, Popat isn’t from a science or food background … the former Mathematics graduate (he earned his degree at Nottingham university) went on to study Philosophy, in India, before returning to the UK to launch The Chocolatier, only two and a half years ago.

Pining for Fir Tree Truffles (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun)? Or how about a delicious Baked Bean Truffle instead … all the flavour but without the gas and bloating afterwards? Popat produces these unconventional truffles using no more than chocolate, water, fruit or vegetable purees, herbs, spices and lots of science. Incidentally, the Fir Tree Truffles were flavoured by obtaining a pine tree, removing the needles, boiling them and capturing the aroma (steam) to infuse with the chocolate. I told you the dude liked chemistry.

For the tasting session at Salon du Chocolat, Popat presented three unique flavours to sample, beginning with a smooth, sensuous Raw Coconut Bean which, Popat revealed, wasn’t tempered above 42 degrees to ensure its delightful texture and flavour: another nugget of science for you.

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Raw Coconut Bean Truffles by The Chocolatier

Our second treat was an eye-wateringly acidic Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar and Hazelnut ganache (the first bite was mild but the second packed one heck of a punch). All the flavours came through in stages, unfolding like a three course meal, reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s bubblegum – quirky and definitely fun!

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Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar & Hazelnut Truffle by The Chocolatier

To finish, we devoured a marvellous Mince Pie Truffle, produced with an actual Mince Pie (pastry included) and caramelised banana ganache – a triumph and my favourite treat of the day!

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Mince Pie Truffle by The Chocolatier

Provenance, of course, is paramount to The Chocolatier and his ingredients are all carefully sourced, including working with chocolate brand Duffy’s original beans to produce a truffle especially for Salon du Chocolat. I would’ve expected nothing less from such a master of chocolate.

Quirky, fun, decadent and healthy, The Chocolatier‘s confectionery deserves to be on any Christmas wish list this December. It’s the ideal gift: you can eat them as an indulgent treat during the festive period or hold off until January, when you’re trying to lose the extra kilos you’ve gained from troughing through all that turkey, stuffing and cake. Now, it’s not often I get to say that about chocolate!

Salon du Chocolat in London: The Gala Evening Review

23 Oct

As Brits rejoiced in celebrating National Chocolate Week, partaking in a range of cocoa-themed events in honour of our nation’s favourite confection, an indulgent finale was unveiled to the media on Friday 18th October: Salon du Chocolat. The world’s largest chocolate show opened its doors at the Kensington Olympia National Hall – its first London outing, despite gracing no less than 23 locations across the globe since its launch in 1994.

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Pralus' amazing praline bars

Attending the exclusive Gala evening, the exhibitor list encompassed esteemed UK and international brands, led by Rococo, Prestat, Demarquette, Lindt, Divine and Vahlrona. High expectations and greedy appetites were fulfilled within minutes of arrival: an assortment of Chocololo treats at the stall for Peckham-based chocolate shop, Melange; Château Vert truffles with citrus and caramel undertones at Chocbox; and Fudge Kitchen’s creamy Caramel Swirl. A sighting of chocolatier Paul A. Young in the crowd raised hopes that he was also exhibiting, but sadly not.

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Comptoir du Cacao at Salon du Chocolat

Samples of velvety truffles, crunchy pralines, chewy nougat, and decadent sauces were flaunted on every stand and it was difficult to move more than three paces without succumbing to a new temptation.

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Chocolate Treats at Salon du Chocolat

Notable discoveries ranged from a salted caramel chocolate slab from Au Palais des Gourmets to nougat made with lavender honey by La Maison du Nougat. A pistachio praline bar by French chocolatier François Pralus was superb, rivalled by Comptoir du Cacao’s Croustines (chocolate-coated crystal pieces with fruit and caramel) and Sparkling Chocolate Spread from Charles Chocolartisan.

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Delicious nougat by La Maison du Nougat

The media frenzy at event sponsor Hotel Chocolat’s stand was entirely justified – the sighting of a bath tub filled with molten chocolate heralded a provocative display. A bikini-clad blonde slid into the tub and proceeded to bathe seductively in the warm liquid, much to the delight of mesmerised photographers. The pheromones released from within the excited crowd were palpable, emphasising the aphrodisiac properties of the confection.

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Chocolate Spa Bath at Salon du Chocolat

Almost as awesome as the spectacle itself was the restraint of the model, who somehow refrained from insatiably slurping handfuls of the intoxicating, vanilla-scented river (willpower of which Rosemary Conley would heartily approve).

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Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Spa Bath

The evening’s highlight was a much-publicised Catwalk Show, hosted by pastry chef Will Torrent, where stunning female models, clad in chocolate couture, paraded innovative collaborations between esteemed chocolatiers and fashion designers. Whilst the addition of handsome men in praline loin-cloths or nougat waistcoats would have perhaps balanced the evening’s titillation, the beautiful dresses were clever and inspired.

Favourites included: a cupcake-studded head-turner by French chocolatier and pâtisssier Madame Trignon (it took six months to perfect); a Macaron-encrusted slinky number from baker Loretta Liu of On Cafe, made using Original Beans’ rainforest collection; an earthy, feather-themed gown from Demarquette, featuring a show-stopping headpiece by Vivien Sheriff; and a funky steampunk dress from bridal wear designer Hannah Wilkins-Webb and award-winning Shropshire-based chocolatier Julia Wenlock (owner of Toot Sweets).

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Cupcake Dress at Salon du Chocolat

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Cupcake Dress


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Demarquette's Chocolate Dress

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Real Choc Leaves on Demarquette's Dress


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Steampunk Dress - Bodice Front

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Steampunk Dress at Salon du Chocolat

A playful night of fashion, flavour, borderline eroticism and humour, the Salon du Chocolat Gala was a feast for all the senses … and a heavenly, if fattening, excursion for chocolate lovers!

Verdict: ★★★★★

RECOMMENDED: Secret Garden Confectionery

16 Oct

It’s National Chocolate Week and, in the spirit of showing support, I have been indulging in every kind of chocolate, stuffing my face without restraint. Trying to pick a favourite variety or bar was proving difficult, until a visit to the Tuesday food market in Thomas More Square, close to historic landmark and tourist attraction, The Tower of London.

I came home with a bag of Rocky Road chocolates by Secret Garden Confectionery – blocks of creamy, milk chocolate, studded with soft marshmallow and crunchy, puffed cereal. I was hooked after one bite. Challenged not to devour the entire bag in one sitting, I had to force myself to remember that I’d actually purchased the chocs to share with my two nieces, aged 5 and 7.

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I gave them half a block each, and remembered my manners long enough to reluctantly offer the bag to their grandparents. The problems started when they all began pestering me for more, declaring the moreish treats to be “delicious” and “yummy”. Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road is far too good to share, but denying them further access to such unbelievably tasty chocolate would have been exceptionally cruel. Fearing I’d be reported for some kind of human rights or domestic abuse, I had no choice but to succumb to their requests. Note to self: hide the next bag I buy at the back of the cupboard and tell no-one.

Secret Garden Confectinery is a regular at food festivals and Shepherds Markets’ sites across the Capital, where lovely co-founder and self-taught chocolatier, Belinda, braves the elements to showcase and sell a mouthwatering display of truffles, lollies, tablets and blocks.The seductive smell of cocoa, vanilla and spices draws you towards the stall just as much as the decadent vision of melt-in-the-mouth milk, white and dark chocolates.

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Made using ethically-sourced products, each beautiful treat is handmade – including the toffee and honeycomb centres – at Belinda’s base in Hertfordshire. The butter and cream used within each chocolate batch (produced in small quantities to ensure freshness), is also produced locally.

Despite such high-quality ingredients and an emphasis on fair trade, Secret Garden’s product range is reasonably priced – items start at a mere £2.50: a steal for artisan chocolate! With additional special offers available for multi-buys, it’s worth stocking up if you’re planning to put together some gorgeous food hampers for family and friends this Christmas.

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The smooth and tangy Milk Chocolate Orange Truffles are particularly addictive and the different flavoured tablet bars – crammed with fruits, spices or nuts – are sinfully sublime. There’s a luscious white chocolate Cranberry, Lemon & Macadamia; a heady Crystallised Ginger set in milk chocolate; a delectable Lime & Coconut white chocolate; a milk chocolate studded with tangy Sour Cherry, Orange and Hazelnut; and a superb Toffee Apple bar, also made with milk chocolate.

While Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road is the pathway to chocolate heaven, I also love the Chocolate Honeycomb blocks and large Chocolate Lollies – flavoursome, indulgent and rewarding; you can almost feel your brain cells doing Olympic somersaults in response to the Conga your tastebuds inevitability start dancing upon first bite. Nothing makes the body celebrate quite like the taste and feel of velvety, silken chocolate … a guaranteed high without the low of a hangover or withdrawal.

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Confirming my thoughts is the word of two discerning little girls. Having sampled Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road bites, some of the glorious tablet bars and the milk and white Chocolate Lollies, my nieces have given the range their official seal of approval: “Yummy”. Truth from the mouths of babes … you really can’t argue with that.

To find out where you can purchase Secret Garden Confectionery visit here.

Please follow @SGConfectionery on Twitter for details of their upcoming presence at Shepherds Markets locations across London.

RECOMMENDED: Cakes by KupKase

11 Oct

Cupcakes. Hmmm. I’m a fussy person to please, particularly when it comes to the ubiquitous Red Velvet variety, but KupKase‘s Red Velvet was one of the best I have ever tried. From the first bite to the last, the rich flavour of red-tinted chocolate sponge coupled with smooth, not-too-sweet icing, was nothing short of euphoric.

There are so many cupcake makers and sellers at every food event – from markets to church fêtes – it’s easy to dismiss them all as being much the same. Lately, I’ve been feeling exactly that: cupcakes are boring and look better than they taste. That is, until I came across KupKase at Startisans, the Saturday food market at One New Change near St Pauls in London, showcasing artisan products from the latest start-ups.

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The KupKase stall was beautiful: gold-dusted cakes topped with fresh fruits, regally perched upon cake-stand chandeliers! Kasey, the vivacious baker behind KupKase, was icing different flavoured cakes as I paused at her stall, mesmerised by the heavenly smell and twinkling colours.

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Striking up a conversation, Kasey kindly gave me a Red Velvet cupcake to take home – a gift that I was intrigued to receive.

Red Velvet is my least favourite cake variety, thanks to most amateur bakers’ highly unappetising penchant for obliterating the chocolate sponge flavour with copious amounts of food colouring, before topping with lashings of sugar-packed frosting, rigidly set into hurricane-defying peaks. Sickly, excessively sweet and adorned with icing stiffer than a stick of chilled butter, a Red Velvet cupcake usually makes my stomach churn with dread.

Yet, there was something about Kasey’s stall that made me think I wouldn’t be disappointed. Watching her deftly ice and decorate her pretty cakes was genuinely mesmerising – and it was clear that her frosting was the perfect consistency.

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Taking my cupcake home on the tube, I couldn’t wait to get indoors to eat it. Cutting it into quarters to share with loved ones, we each devoured our piece with a cup of tea, lamenting the fact that I hadn’t come home with a box of the delicious cakes rather than just one: a schoolgirl error that shall never be repeated.

KupKase‘s Red Velvet was exceptionally good – tasty, pretty and deeply gratifying. Add it to your list of cupcakes to sample before you die: KupKase is a little bite of heaven on Earth so don’t wait to kick the bucket before you try it!

You can find KUPKASE at Startisans, the weekly Saturday Food Market run by Shepherds Markets at One New Change (1 New Change, London, EC4M 9AF).

Startisans runs from 11am to 3.30pm every Saturday. The nearest tube station is St Pauls.

REVIEW: Kusmi Tea Party

27 Sep

I confess that tea has always been my drug of choice; I cannot function without it. Having once sacrificed my habbit for Lent, I proceeded to look ill and diseased for the entire 40 days of withdrawal. So epic was my decline, my work colleagues celebrated when my fast ended, proclaiming: “You have never looked so terrible, thank God it’s over.” Tea, it seems, is both my drug and my beauty therapist.

Thus, when I spotted a competition on Twitter, run by Sauce Communications, to win an exclusive invitation to Kusmi‘s Tea Party, I knew I had to enter! To say I was excited when I won would only scratch the surface of my elation!

Stepping into the Kusmi Tea store in Marylebone was like stepping into a Pirate’s treasure trove. Wherever I looked, there was a rich bounty of exquisite tea blends, in all different flavours. Coloured boxes lined the shelves like twinkling jewels, pulling me towards them like a magpie to shiny trinkets. For a tea addict such as myself, Kusmi’s shop was a Wonka-esque utopia of colour, flavour and charm.

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The tea party was the perfect soiree: hot and iced Kusmi teas, organic cakes by Marlette, makeover and beauty treatments courtesy of Michael John and Laura Mercier, beautiful artworks from YellowKorner and lovely, welcoming staff with a genuine passion for their products!

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I loved hearing about Kusmi’s origins; the esteemed tea company is steeped in history! Having begun life in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1867 – where customers included Tsar Nicholas II – the company, founded by Pavel Kousmichoff, had already launched a subsidiary in London before settling permanently in Paris, France, during 1916 (just ahead of the revolution in which the Tsar and his family were assasinated).

There were two teas available to sample at the party: BB DETOX from a new Wellness range and ANASTASIA, a signature Russian blend. Poured into the most gorgeous, branded cups, the Iced Grapefruit-infused BB Detox tea was served with an old-fashioned paper straw, adding to the evening’s party vibe. Refreshing, light and packed with health-boosting antioxidents, the tea smelt as fruity as it tasted!

Anastasia, served warm, was a comforting blend of Earl Grey, lemon and orange blossom. In truth, I have never been a fan of Earl Grey, hating its floral and bergamot notes, but this tea was beautiful. Named in honour of Tsar Nicholas’ most famous daughter (in the decades following the revolution, claims persisted that she was still alive), it was so addictive, I bought a box to take home – making use of the great discounts available on the night for party guests!

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Offered alongside the teas were a fantastic array of cakes, courtesy of home-baking brand Marlette. The French company offers a range of HOME-BAKE CAKE & BREAD MIXES – all organic and free from nasty additives.

I’ve never admired home-bake mixes, particularly as many seem to produce a cardboard crust or a chewy centre, but Marlette’s products had no such problems and I was impressed by the quality of their cakes.

Pairing Kusmi’s Anastasia tea with slices of Marlette’s moreish almond Financiers and squares of gooey Fondant au Chocolat (brownie), I was in sugar-high heaven. There was even a Cereal Bar Cake – a fragrant slab packed with figs and apricot – which nicely complimented Kusmi’s iced BB Detox.

I’ve since spotted the chocolate fondant mix in my local M&S store, priced around £7. I’ll be stocking up on these, along with tins of Kusmi teas, throughout December – for inclusion in homemade Christmas hampers for family and friends.

During the party, I paused for a sojourn in the rectangular store’s ‘Chill Out Corner’, created especially for the event with gallery chain YellowKorner. I was blown away by some of the dazzling prints on display, which included limited edition exclusives, vowing to visit the gallery’s Westfield and Mayfair outlets very soon to check out more show-stopping artworks!

I spent the rest of my evening chatting to fellow guests and admiring the amazing skills of Sara Chatterton, from luxury salon chain Michael John – who was blow-drying curls and ringlets with finesse – and the nimble fingers of a beautician from Laura Mercier, who was expertly transforming guests into goddesses with eyeshadows, liners, skin products, blusher and plenty of lippy!

Upon leaving, I was presented with a stunning goody bag, containing over £50 worth of treats! Items included a tin of Kusmi’s Anastasia loose leaf tea, a Laura Mercier Foundation Primer, a packet of Marlette’s Organic Fondant au Chocolat mix, a 50% off voucher for a cut and blow-dry at any Michael John salon, a discount coupon for YellowKorner and lots of fantastic information about the brands.

The Kusmi Tea Party was a fabulous affair – stylish and entertaining, with plenty of delicious treats. The store was a grotto of delights – parading everything from funky tea pots to exclusive, Russian tea blends! A brilliant event with top-notch food, entertainment and staff, I walked away with loads of Christmas gift ideas and a range of new favourite tea flavours.

Kusmi Tea, 15 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4NU

REVIEW: The Cake & Bake Show 2013

17 Sep

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Bruised shoulders, stubbed toes, sweaty foreheads, strained back muscles, full tummies and arms laden with bags – these were the side effects of attending The Cake & Bake Show in London’s Earl’s Court on Sunday (15th September).

To say that the event was mobbed would be like describing meringues as “white globs”; traversing certain ailses was akin to being caught up in the London riots (shin pads and helmets would have been exceedingly useful before venturing towards the cupcake stalls but, sadly, I left my riot gear at home).

The huge turnout – totalling over 30,000 visitors – reflected the growth of the Home Baking market and retail sales of baked goods in the UK. Recent figures confirm that 41% of Brits bake at least once a fortnight* and the nation consumes £23.5m** worth of cupcakes a year. The Home Baking sector is now worth a staggering £645m and the average consumer eats home-baked goods 4.6 times every fortnight*.

Flooding into the venue alongside all the other budding Mary Berrys, we exchanged a miserably grey weekend for a world of dizzying colour and creativity. From the neon glare of fushia pink cupcakes, pearly white icing and violet edible flowers to the warmth of glossy chocolate slabs, golden caramel fudge and red velvet whoopie pies, the London venue was a Dulux palette of sugar and confectionery. Willy Wonka would have sung in approval.

The Golden Tickets required for entry to this ganache-crafted world of imagination were available to buy, but the sugar Gods sweetened my fortunes with two free tickets. I entered a competition via Twitter, run by Stork in the week leading up to the event… and won!

Squealing as the shock sank in, I jumped up and down in elation and thanked my lucky [sugared] stars for such an amazing prize. Some people get babies… my Stork brings me Cake & Bake Show tickets. Methinks I definitely got the better deal.

One of the highlights of the event was the margarine brand’s spectacular “Cake Runway” where the models were all beautifully crafted cakes! ‘Plus Size’ got a whole new meaning as we looked at the curves of fat-tiered cakes sporting wonderfully intricate designs.

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The show was split into defined sections, including food retail areas, homeware and baking supplies, exhibition stands, masterclass theatres and demonstration stations. Many workshops with high-profile icons – such as baker, Eric Lanlard – had to be pre-booked, but the likes of Renshaw, Betty Crocker and Dr. Oetker ran several more informal events that attracted a spontaneous audience.

Goody bags were available to purchase upon arrival, priced at £5 each. Each branded cotton bag contained a wealth of money off vouchers, a Betty Crocker packet mix for Red Velvet Cupcakes, a bottle of Russian limeade called ‘Zeo’ and a fabulously glossy Christmas recipe book from sugar brand Billingtons.

Navigating the scrum of visitors was difficult, and at times unbearable, but the bruising was well worth it! Here are some of my favourite finds from the show:

MINCE PIES BY FLOUR POWER CITY BAKERY

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I have an obsession with mince pies and have spent many years on a mission to try every variety in London. These ones had perfectly short pastry and an old-fashioned, tangy filling – superb!

VEGAN CHILLI CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES BY SUGAR CREAM CAKES

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This vegan cupcake was a delightful surprise. A soft, chocolatey sponge was tasty and harmless – the heat was all in the icing! Delicious!

MUSCOVADO AND MOLASSES FUDGE BY BILLINGTONS

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The sugar brand had a wonderful hut at the event, showcasing their wares and a range of mind-blowing fudge varieties, especially made for the show to demonstrate how their individual products can be used at home.

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A fudge recipe was included in their Christmas-themed cookbook, included in the official Cake & Bake Show goody bag – which I shall definitely be making over the Yuletide period!

PAUL A. YOUNG CHOCOLATES & BROWNIES

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My favourite chocolatier once again had the best cocoa creations for sale – annihilating the competition in flavour, texture and presentation.

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Although I was none too impressed with his introduction of a Marmite Brownie – I hate the stuff! Nevertheless, I persuaded two doubtful shoppers to buy one of his Signature Brownies – one of the richest and delicious in the UK.

MERINGUES BY THE MERINGUE GIRLS

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Colourful, light, vibrant and inviting – I loved the girls’ stall at the show. With an array of flavours on offer, it was unsurprising to discover that their products were selling quickly!

OTHER AMAZING SIGHTS IN PICTURES:

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Sources:
*Kantar Worldpanel ^SymphonyIRI
**Companies & Markets (July 3rd, 2013)