The brasserie at Malmaison, Belfast (Photo: Malmaison)

(Blog by The Dolly Bird – Twitter: @TheDollyBirdNI)

So, this week I had my first blind date as part of #DTHDating organised by my good friends Lynsey and Robert at @DowntheHatchNI.

Over the course of four weeks, I’m going on four blind dates to four different locations throughout Belfast to check out how they rate for dates.

The first place Down the Hatch suggested was Malmaison on Victoria Street, Belfast.

Having heard lots of great reports, I was excited to visit.

I’ve been on dates before but never a blind date. I must admit, I was relatively cool in the run up to the date until I arrived outside the gorgeous Malmaison. All of a sudden I felt a little flutter of nerves – thankfully they didn’t stay too long!

My first impressions of Malmaison were WOW! The building is incredible, the décor and the ambience are warm, cosy and friendly! I have to admit, I felt slightly out of place as it is so elegant, but the excitement of meeting my date took over.

After making my way inside, I spotted an elderly gentleman sitting on his own and thought Down the Hatch were having a laugh at my expense, but after finding the Brasserie and speaking with Aisling, a very friendly waitress, she showed me to my date.

Then I met Andrew…

Surprisingly, I was very impressed! He was tall, dark(ish) and handsome. I thought Down the Hatch had done well for my first blind date!

The Brasserie is amazing! With a wooden theme throughout, as well as Titanic memorabilia, cute vintage-inspired photo frames and quirky ornamental buckets, the setting was very welcoming.

The room was bright and made me feel very comfortable but I was most impressed by where we were sitting.

We had been allocated a booth facing a gorgeous wall mounted fire, which again added to the cosiness of our date. The booth offered us privacy and we may as well have been the only two people in the whole restaurant. The perfect location for a first (blind) date and in my opinion, the best seats in the house. 

Andrew was a very easy person to talk to. We chatted about all things from travel, working, family and even our worst foodie experiences – Andrew’s was shark whilst mine was caterpillar?!

Thankfully the menu in Malmaison helped banish those experiences from our minds. We ordered from the very reasonably priced Prix Fixe menu, which offers two courses for £19.95 and three courses for £24.95.

Both Andrew and I opted for the mushroom and black truffle macaroni.

Our meal arrived and looked very appetising!

Improbable though it may sound, I’ve eaten truffle before, but never actually had macaroni.

My first experience was in no way a let-down! The sauce, ripe with flavour was smooth and paired with the mushroom in the dish, tasted amazing!

We both were very impressed with our main course, although the portion size was so large, I unfortunately couldn’t finish mine. 

The staff were really helpful throughout the evening – our waitress Aisling and waiter Paul made sure we had enough drinks at all times.

I chose the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which was crisp and refreshing, whilst Andrew went for a Guinness. Manager Lydia also made sure our evening was going smoothly – we were really well looked after.

After treating ourselves to dessert (I chose the apple pie crumble and Andrew had the steamed chocolate pudding – thumbs up for both!), we continued our conversation using some prompt questions from Down the Hatch!

Thankfully, we didn’t need them as the conversation was flowing as well as the wine, but who can pass up asking if you were a chocolate bar, what would you be?! A more difficult question to answer than you’d think! Andrew’s choice was a rum-flavoured chocolate from Lidl, where I struggled between Kitkat Chunky and Mint Aero!

As the time ticked on, it was time for us both to leave our first date.

Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a spark and I don’t think Andrew and I will be going on a second date, but I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with him, which was made even more special by the amazing surroundings of Malmaison.

I would certainly recommend it as a location for a date and suggest if you’re looking for some private time, request the booth at the back of The Brasserie facing the fire – it really is a majestic setting!

Rate the Date (1-5*)

Location 4* – Malmaison was the perfect setting for a first date. Whilst our meal and drinks was complimentary, if you’re paying it could end up quite expensive but the food and drinks do not disappoint and are worth the money in my opinion.

Roll on next week’s #DTHDating!

DBx

Starting our new interview series, we spoke to Kerrie Walker from a great company called New Found Joy who are making a splash with their range of gluten-free baked goods.
Tell us about New Found Joy

We’re a gluten free artisan bakery based in the heart of Lurgan, Northern Ireland. We have a team of skilled bakers who create high quality, gluten-free traybakes, puddings and scones by hand, using old traditional methods and top quality ingredients.
We opened in 2015 after we saw a need for delicious gluten-free bakery goods, from speaking to customers of our main coffee shop – the Cafe Alana.
We source locally when we can to get the freshest possible ingredients. We have won various Great Taste, Blas Na h’eireann and Free From Food awards for our Gluten Free Rocky Road, Caramel Square and Chocolate Brownie.
We take a lot of pride in our products. Even though they’re gluten free we haven’t had to sacrifice any of the flavour – in taste tastes people tell us they’re just as good as the mainstream versions.

Why gluten free?
Gluten free diets are becoming more and more common, as around 1 in 100 people is diagnosed as having Ceoliac disease whilst others feel healthier excluding it from their diet. There’s huge customer demand for gluten-free options in cafes and restaurants. We help businesses offer that choice through our wholesale business. We supply locally as well as Ireland and even the Middle East market. 

What types of traybakes do you make?
We offer 4 main chocolate varieties including Chocolate Brownie, Caramel Square, Rocky Road and white chocolate Diana Delight.  We also provide a selection of gluten free scones suitable for afternoon tea, steamed sticky toffee puddings and a range of biscuits to enjoy with a nice cup of tea.

Why traybakes?
Traybakes are a much-loved stable of the coffee shop industry in Northern Ireland. They are also very easy to package in individual portions which is a very important factor to consider when producing gluten-free products. Usually only one member of a family will need to follow a gluten free diet so individual portions can be opened and eaten fresh with little wastage.

                                                                                          Where can we get our hands on some?

Our delicious products are available in coffee shops and farm shops up and down Ireland. If there is a specific place you would like to see our products, get in touch!

Who taught you how to bake?

My mother is a brilliant cook, however she hadn’t delved much into the world of baking. She was very patient when I regularly made a mess of the kitchen – trial and error was largely how I taught myself. My grandfather worked in a bakery and my grandmother would make jam and other treats from scratch. I would regularly give them a call and ask for advice on why my baked treats weren’t turning out just the way I wanted it to.  Like a lot of people I watch a lot of baking videos on the internet and watch baking programmes on TV.

What’s your favourite traybake? (feel free to include a short recipe if you like)

Mine would have to be our Gluten-Free Rocky Road. We make our own biscuit chunks with our gluten-free flour and use a combination of different types of Belgian Chocolate, marshmallows and plump sultanas. It gives the Rocky Road a crunchy, yet chewy and soft texture.  I would give you the recipe but, its top secret!

In celebration of Down the Hatch’s #traybakeweek my next challenge was to rustle up, you guessed it, a tray bake! Having been to Blend and Batch in Banbridge and tried their quirky version of a caramel square I knew I had to try making them for myself.

Rather than the usual buttery, biscuit base, Blend and Batch used a brownie bottom so this tray bake encompasses all of my favourite things! Chocolate, caramel and even more chocolate, what’s not to love?

I know there are a million and one (ish) chocolate brownie recipes out there between cookery books and recipe websites and you can’t move for people telling you they have the definitive brownie recipe.  But this is the ultimate brownie recipe.

I will admit, they do take a little longer to prepare but are definitely worth the extra effort and time. They are a chewy, fudgy, dense deliciousness that everyone will go away craving.

So onto the recipe.

Brownies

185g butter

185g dark chocolate

85g plain flour

40g cocoa

50g white chocolate

3 large eggs

275g golden caster

Caramel

150g butter

1 can condensed milk (379g)

100g golden syrup

Topping

350g milk chocolate

100g white chocolate

 

Method

Brownie Base:

1. Heat the oven to 170°C. Lightly grease a 22cm square cake tin.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

3. Whisk the eggs and sugar together for 2-3 minutes until smooth and fluffy.

4. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.

5. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and stir to mix. Pour the mixture into the cake tin.

6. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 35 minutes until the surface is set. It is cooked when it just starts to crack on the top. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

Adding your caramel

1. Heat the butter, condensed milk and golden syrup in a saucepan, stirring occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth

2. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring all the time. The caramel will thicken and turn golden-brown.

3. Set aside to cool slightly, then pour over the cooled brownie base.

4. Allow to cool completely.

Topping with chocolate

1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water).

2. Pour the melted milk chocolate over the caramel.

3. To decorate with a feathered effect melt the white chocolate in a small bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.

4. Place in a small piping bag, snip the end and pipe in lines down the cake, about 1cm/½in apart.

5. Using a cocktail stick, drag through the white chocolate in opposite directions across the cake to give a feathered effect.

6. Cut into squares and serve when totally cooled.

When we entered the European Milk Forum (EMF) ‘Cheese Up Your Life!’ Competition never did we think we would win the best blogger recipe for Northern Ireland. The competition called for bloggers and chefs to submit a recipe which boasted of the quality, variety and versatility of European cheese.

As big cheese lovers this was the perfect competition to get us thinking creatively about how we could introduce local cheese in a different way – so our dish is all about a good ole block of cheddar cheese!

Inspired by the recent food movement to bring back #SundaySupper we realised that we nothing more than gathering around a table, sharing food and spending time with our family and friends, trying to milk the last remains of the weekend with a cheese board and a glass of wine!

However, on a Sunday evening a cheese board is an easy option for a lazy cook so we wanted to come up with alternative recipe to take on the traditional cheeseboard. We combined a range of cheeses (local cheddar, ricotta, soft cheese and Parmesan) to create something moreish for #SundaySupper which made the thought of work on Monday morning bearable!

Our recipe is based on the concept of sweet cheesecake but instead uses oatcakes, vegetables and nuts to enhance the texture and colour of the dish. The competition judge, Irish cookbook writer and chef Trish Deseine, discussed with us how this recipe could be adapted through the seasons by introducing different combinations of cheeses into the filling and different toppings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We thought this was a great idea so watch this space for some new savoury cheesecake recipes. Our winning prize included 1000 Euro and a trip to the EU Cheese Forum in Brussels where we had the opportunity to meet the other winners from France, Denmark and Ireland and try out their recipes – we were in cheese heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also had the privilege of having our recipe recreated by the talented chef Vital Sgibnevas from The Merchant Hotel in Belfast and photographed by David Pauley who recently launched the beautiful cookbook, written by Joanna Braniff, called Belfast on a Plate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you fancy giving our recipe a go we would love to hear how it turns out and if you made any tweaks to create your own version.

Ingredients

Topping:

· 1 × 400g pack shallots, peeled and halved

· 250g vacuumed packed beetroot – cut into wedges

· 40g rocket

· 1tbsp balsamic glaze

· 1tbsp honey

· 2tbsp olive oil

· 10g roasted hazelnuts

Filling:

· 250g soft cheese

· 250g Ricotta cheese

· 200g NI mature cheddar cheese (cubed)

· 1tbsp parmesan

· 3 large eggs

· 2tsp garlic puree

· 1tbsp fresh chives chopped

· 1tbsp fresh thyme chopped

· Salt and pepper to season

Base:

· 200g oatcakes, crushed

· 50g NI mature cheddar cheese, finely grated

· 200g butter, melted

Method

1. Preheat fan oven to fan 130°C. Lightly grease and line the base of a 22cm cake tin.

2. In a large bowl, combine the crumbs, hard cheese, and melted butter. Press mixture into the base of the tin and refrigerate for 40 minutes.

3. In a large bowl combine the soft cheese and ricotta. Using an electric whisk add the eggs and parmesan to the mixture and blend together until smooth.

4. Fold in the seasoning (chives, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic puree) and the cubed cheddar.

5. Pour mixture over the base and place in oven for 50–60 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, leave to cool and refrigerate for 4 – 5 hours.

6. One hour before serving toss the shallots in half the oil with half the honey, season and place in oven (180°C) for 40 minutes until golden.

7. After 20 minutes add toss the beetroot in the remaining oil and honey, season and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, leave to cool

8. Remove cheesecake from fridge and decorate the cheesecake. First top with rocket, place beetroot and shallots on top then scatter on hazelnuts. Finally, top with balsamic glaze.

 

S’more summer. S’more sunshine. S’more holidays. There are lots of things I want more of and now I have another to add to my list. This s’more dip is super easy to make and a great summer sharing treat, leaving you…wanting s’more (you guessed it!)

Made with toasted marshmallows, chocolate and digestive biscuits, this is an equally tasty, sized up version of regular s’mores. I found this recipe on BBC Good Food but tweaked it by adding 2 good spoons of Nutella and a little double cream. These extra ingredients are totally optional but give this dish a little more luxury.

 

 

Almost ganache-like, the melted chocolate mixture is lusciously smooth, whilst the crunchy digestives cut through the sauce giving texture to this dessert. This is the perfect summer treat when friends and family are together, even Harry my 9-month-old nephew agrees!

All you need to do now is grab a pan and you are ready to go!

Ingredients

200g milk chocolate

2 tbsp full-fat milk

350g mini marshmallows

2 heaped tbsp Nutella

100ml double cream

Method

Heat the chocolate, milk and 200g of the marshmallows, Nutella and cream in an ovenproof frying pan over a low heat until melted and smooth.

Top with the remaining marshmallows in circles so that the whole surface is covered.

Grill on high for 1-2 mins until the marshmallows are toasted. Serve with digestives and strawberry and pineapple skewers for dunking. 

 

 

When Down the Hatch challenged me to a ‘destination bake’ this month I knew exactly what I wanted to recreate. Andrew and I spent had spent 10 days in Jerusalem at the start of July and between touring all the famous sites had enjoyed lots of Middle Eastern cuisine. From hummus to challah, falafel to flat bread, I wanted to make sure we had tried all their specialties. My favourite however came as dessert (of course!) in the form of baklava. 

Many cultures cite baklava as one of their staple desserts and so there are many variations, but fundamentally, baklava is prepared with layers of filo pastry, separated by melted butter, topped with nuts and sugar, layered again with filo and then covered in a sweet, sugary syrup. What’s not to love?

I really made this recipe up as I went along and you too can vary the ingredients to suit your taste. I used walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios but almonds would also work as an alternative.

My top tip for this recipe makes working with the filo pastry much easier. First, I used shop bought. If it’s good enough for the Queen of baking, Mary Berry, it’s good enough for me and my friends can vouch that it makes a delicious baklava. Second, before you begin assembling your baklava, place the filo sheets in between two clean and slightly damp kitchen towels. This helps the filo sheets remain flexible so they won’t tear or break too much.

Onto the recipe:

Baklava

170g shelled pistachios coarsely chopped

170g walnuts, coarsely chopped

170g hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

2 packets of filo sheets

250g unsalted butter, melted

Syrup

¾ cup sugar

1 cup cold water

1 cup honey

1 tbsp orange juice

1tsbp cinnamon

 

 

 

 

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.

2. Combine the chopped nuts with sugar and cinnamon. Stir to mix.

3. Unwrap filo sheets, then spread them flat on a slightly damp tea towel. Cover the top with another slightly damp tea towel while working.

3. Butter a baking dish that is roughly the same size as your filo sheets. Place one sheet of filo inside and brush all over with melted butter. Continue layering the filo sheets on top of each other, buttering each sheet (I used 5 layers).

4. Spread a third of the nutty mixture over the buttered filo stack.

5. Cover with another 5 layers of buttered filo, then spread another third of remaining of the nut mixture over buttered filo sheets. (Repeat twice)

6. Cover with a further 5 filo sheets buttering each layer. Make sure to generously butter the top layer.

Design

Cutting the baklava into a diamond design takes time but really is worthwhile and is sure to be a showstopper. 

I used these step-by-step pictures when cutting a design into my baklava, but if you are rushed for time simple squares of triangles will also work. The proof is in the pudding, rather than the presentation after all.

Back to the baking…

8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover with foil for the last 30 minutes of baking time, but do not reduce baking time.

9. While your baklava bakes make the syrup. Place water and sugar in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the honey, cinnamon and orange juice to the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

10. Remove syrup from the heat and leave to cool. It must be cold before pouring over cooked baklava.

11. Pour syrup over baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

(Pic from atelierchristine.com)

 

 

 

 

DTH Towers is but a hop, skip and a jump from Horatio Todd’s, so we’re there quite a bit.
As a venue for dressed-down drinks or a midweek catch-up, it’s pretty much perfect.
Not only do they host what is officially the greatest pub quiz in the world (*SNFA) but their cocktail list is so good I’ve had to create a new adjective to do it justice – scrumtralescent!
So when they invited us to try Northern Ireland’s first bottomless brunch we were excited. Everyone remembers significant firsts – First man on the moon? Neil Armstrong.  First to run a four minute mile? Roger Bannister. Would this be another memorable event to add to the list?
The omens were good. We were greeted by a friendly and attentive waitress who brought us to a table before returning seconds later with a glass of crisp, cold prosecco. Cheers!
When I heard the words ‘bottomless brunch’, I tended to think of it as girls-only affair. I pictured a gaggle of thirty-somethings dripping in diamonds, carrying miniature handbag dogs, sipping on champers and having a giggle. Looking around the room, it certainly did appeal to the ladies, but despite my lack of diamonds (they were in for polishing) or a chihuahua, I was made to feel extremely comfortable. It would make a great birthday treat or a refined date option – bound to impress.
When the waitress arrived with the menus, we were both struck by the same thing – the breadth of choice and creativity of dishes on offer. The unique selling point is undoubtedly the bottomless drinks (prosecco, mimosas and Bloody Marys), so it would have been very easy to get lazy with the food. On the contrary. Alongside the standard fry, French toast and avocado on sourdough were dishes like huevos rancheros, asparagus with poached eggs and crab hollandaise and a delicious-sounding breakfast taco.
We opted for the avocado on sourdough, which worked brilliantly with the crispy, salty bacon and the fluffy French toast, also with bacon and maple syrup. That too was thoroughly tasty, though only after removing the garnish of chopped chives, which was an unusual addition, but easily dispensed of.
As we ate, our vigilant waitress kept on eye on the level of our drinks and if they were nearing empty, swooped in to ask if we’d like another.
In the interest of completeness (the things we do for you, dear reader) we tried all three drinks included in the selection.
The prosecco was lovely and light, with a crisp green apple flavour and creamy mouth-feel – very approachable, even at 11 o’clock in the morning. The mimosas were fresh and sweet with plenty of sparkle, which suggests a healthy fizz-to-juice ratio. The Bloody Marys, though, were the star of the show. A far cry from the overly-tobasco-ed drink served with an anaemic stick of wilting celery you may have nursed in an airport lounge, these were packed with sweet, smoky tomato flavour and a pleasant chili kick. Plenty of thought had gone into this luscious libation – combining smoked vodka with chili liquor from one of our favourite local booze makers, Ruby Blue and a dash of celery bitters – fantastic.
So, the food was good, the drinks even better, but does it represent value for money?
The price of brunch options ranges from £6.50 for the French toast or breakfast taco to £10.95 for the chargrilled minute steak (mmmm) -pretty typical brunch prices and taking into account the quality and standard of service, very good. A glass of prosecco at the bar is £6.95, a Bloody Mary, £7.50 (the mimosa doesn’t feature elsewhere on the menu). We each had four drinks in the one-and-a-bit hours we were there, which indiviually would have added up to around £29 for drinks alone. Had we been paying, I think we would have left with the virtuous feeling of having somehow saved money by eating out.
 Would we recommend it? In short, yes. But make sure to book a taxi!
 Brunch costs £27.50 per person and  is available every Saturday (11am-2pm). Booking in advance is recommended.
*Society of Not Fake Awards

For my first Down The Hatch bake I was given the challenge to produce something with a summer feel. 

For me, summer conjures up thoughts of Wimbledon, graduations and garden parties and the one thing each of these events have in common is – strawberries and cream.

Nothing screams summer more than this perfect pairing. By using strawberries and cream as a filling for choux pastry éclairs you can create a really special treat that is sure to be a hit during the summer.

But don’t let these sophisticated desserts fool you into thinking they’re impossible to make, they aren’t. You need very basic ingredients to make these strawberries and cream éclairs, most of which you will probably have in your cupboard.

They are best made the day they are served and I have found this recipe makes a buttery, flaky choux pastry that works perfectly every time.

You will need:

Pastry

75g butter diced

1 tsp caster sugar

50g plain flour

50g strong bread flour

3 eggs

Filling/Topping

225g icing sugar

Red liquid food colour

Freeze-dried raspberry pieces

100g seedless strawberry jam

100g strawberries, hulled and cut into thin slices

300g whipping cream

1tsp vanilla bean paste or extract

 

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C

fan/gas 4 and line 2 large baking sheets with baking parchment.

2. Start by making the pastry. Place the butter, sugar and 125ml of water in a small saucepan over a medium–high heat. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and when all the butter has melted add the flours and vigorously beat the mixture with a wooden spoon

until a smooth ball of dough forms.

3. Keep the pan on the heat and continue to cook the dough, stirring rapidly, for a further minute. Tip the dough into a bowl and leave it to cool until it has stopped steaming, to avoid scrambling the eggs.

4. Beat the eggs together briefly in a small jug. Add the eggs to the cooled dough in three separate additions, beating well between each one with a wooden spoon or spatula, mixing until it turns into a thick paste. You might not need to add all the egg so when you are adding the final amount, add it slowly. Your mixture should fall off the spoon or spatula easily and leave a ‘V’ shape. Spoon the choux pastry into one of the piping bags.

5. Snip the end off the piping bag and pipe the dough into 10-12, 12cm long éclairs on a lined baking tray.

6. Bake the éclairs in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Turn the oven off and leave the éclairs in for a further 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

My top tip for choux pastry…

Make sure you bake the pastry properly, until it is completely dry. If any steam is left inside the buns when they are taken out of the oven it will make a soggy pastry, which can collapse. To prevent this, I turn off the oven at the end of baking and leave the pastry to cool inside for around an hour. This helps to evaporate any remaining water and keeps your éclairs crisp.

Now for the perfect summery filling and decoration that creates the perfect pop of pink at any summer event.

1. Slice each éclair in half length ways with a serrated knife.

2. Mix the icing sugar and 30-35ml water into a thick but just pourable glaze. Mix in a few drops of red food colouring until pink. Dip each éclair top in the glaze. Put on a piece of baking paper and sprinkle with the freeze dried raspberries. Leave to set.

3. For the filling, spoon a little of the jam into the base of each éclair and top with the diced strawberries. Whisk the cream and vanilla together until it holds soft peaks. Scrape the cream into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.

4. Pipe peaks of cream along the length of the éclairs, then place a slice of strawberry between each peak. Place the tops back onto the éclairs, sitting on top of the cream and strawberries.

 

Hi everyone! My name is Rachel and I am super excited to be a guest blogger here on Down The Hatch NI. I am 25 years old and work as a Home Economics teacher in Portadown.

 I am engaged to Andrew and we are getting married in December, just before Christmas…so no cakes and bakes for me!

 

Where did you learn to bake?

I am a family taught, self-taught and taste buds taught baker. For as long as I can remember I have loved being in the kitchen trying out new recipes. What started as a hobby has evolved into a real passion and there is nothing I love more than baking something new for my family and friends that we can enjoy together.

 

What do you love to bake?

As clichéd as it sounds I really do love to bake everything and anything. Through this hobby of baking I have formed some very valuable qualities. Baking allows me to be more creative than I ever could be with a pencil or pen.  

I have learned the importance of being precise and thorough yet I know how to be flexible when I need find substitutions for ingredients I have forgotten about. But more so than this I love the social aspect of baking.

Baking brings people together and there is no greater pleasure than seeing someone’s face light up when they have their first bit and realise it really does taste as good as it looks.

 

What’s your signature bake?

My signature bake has to be a super simple Strawberry Gateau. It looks so impressive but is so simple to put together, it really has the WOW factor. Anytime there’s a dinner party or event out comes the Strawberry Gateau.

 

What do you like to put #inyerbake?

My favourite thing to put in my bake has to be a really good Victoria Sponge. Light and fluffy with a soft buttercream and jam centre, it really is the simple things. My personal favourite comes from The Mermaid Kitchen and Bar in Portrush. Made of a thin layer of sponge and filled with clotted cream, fruit and jam, I love their twist on the traditional cake.

My eyes widened when I opened the cake Graham’s had kindly sent us. It looked impressive – neatly iced and covered lavishly in white chocolate curls. The monochrome presentation made it look like a classy, grown-up product. The golden board it rested on was a sophisticated touch and reinforced the idea that this was a premium product.

Not, though, at a premium price.

I’m told they will retail at £6.99, which seems pretty reasonable. It’s a great looking cake, hand-decorated with lots of high quality, real chocolate (no cheap substitutes here).

The packaging showed the use by date, which was reassuringly short. This was clearly a treat designed not to stay on the shelf for long and to be eaten fresh.

I cut a rather healthy slice and was pleased that the sponge had a bit of bounce, but was soft and fluffy, not too heavy.

As you can see from the photo below, Graham’s haven’t stinted on the buttercream. Not everyone’s a fan, but for me this was a bonus, as that thick, unctuous layer gives a lovely, rich, soft mouth feel and I have a very sweet tooth.

The jam had good flavour, but I was left wanting more of it, to counterbalance the buttercream with a slight bit of tartness. It was already a moist cake.

It’s was also a very sweet cake. Perhaps a little too sweet, even for a sugar addict like me. Small slices are definitely best and as the box suggests it serves 10, I would stick to that.

So, not a cake for everyday consumption and some people will be put off by all the white chocolate, but as a ‘celebration’ cake, it works perfectly.

It looks luxurious and special and in small quantities, it really is very tasty.

Had it been in a Thornton’s box, it would have been twice the price and sitting on the shelf next to similarly-priced supermarket own-brand cakes and mass-produced alternatives there really is no comparison.

When he visited, my uncle used to ask my mum if the cake she had painstakingly baked that morning was ‘a bought one’, which was intended as a compliment. Graham’s haven’t quite pulled off the opposite trick, but it did taste a lot closer to home-made than most pre-packed cakes and coming from their bakery in Dromore, it was very fresh.

It’s safe to say after three generations of baking, they know their way around a fine sponge cake!

Overall, a good quality product at a very competitive price.