It was with great excitement when I passed by a shop on Old Brompton Road a couple weeks ago – there was a big sign on the front announcing the imminent arrival of Aux Merveilleux de Fred to London. And it has indeed recently opened – the weekend before Valentine’s Day too.

This patisserie from Lille specialises in meringues covered in cream and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything else sold there (I lie, they also sell a sweet bread called a cramique). But their meringues! They’re quite simple – little mounds or big cakes constructed of layers of meringue and cream. I first encountered them in Lille, where a long queue out the door of the shop attracted my attention; I did want one then but we hadn’t the time to stand in the queue that day. Here was our chance to finally try their confections.

Meringues

This past Valentine’s Day, I purchased a small box of their smallest (two bite size) meringues for dessert that evening. There were five in total, one of each of their main flavours, and it cost £8.50 (oof). Their texture is fabulous – light crispy meringue and equally light flavored whipped cream.

As you can see, each little mound was also rolled in sprinkles of some kind. From left to right (in the photo above):

  • Le Merveilleux - this seemed to me one of their most famous flavours with chocolate flakes and chocolate whipped cream too.
  • L’incroyable – the cream in this little treat was supposed to be speculoos flavoured but sadly I could not taste it at all. It tasted mainly of the white chocolate flakes on its surface.
  • L’impensable – this coffee flavoured confection was probably my favourite!
  • L’Excentrique – this cherry flavoured one was Blai’s favourite. I would have like more fruity flavour but Blai loved that the meringue flavour came through best because of this reason.
  • Le Magnifique – coated in delicious praline and this was the second favourite for both of us.

That day, there was also a caramel flavoured variety on offer. Ah, another one to sample next time!

Meringues

I’ve only so far had a chance to try their smallest meringue confections (they come in a larger single serving size as well as big cakes) but what we had was delicious.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred
88 Old Brompton Road
London SW7 3LQ

I met up with the lovely Kathy of the eponymous Kathy YL Chan blog while she was here in London for a visit. Knowing her penchant for desserts, we first met at Maltby Street for St John’s famous custard doughnuts before wandering over to Borough Market in search of something savoury. Somewhere in between the two markets, after much discussing, a booking was made for afternoon tea at William Curley (the patissier-chocolatier) in Belgravia. On weekends, and it was a Saturday when we met, they open up their Dessert Bar and offer a dessert tasting menu for the afternoon. On all other days, they still sell their delicious chocolates, cakes and ice creams.

When we got there later that day, we settled into our table (the seats at the six-seater bar had already been booked up) and ordered a hojicha latte (Kathy) and a house blend tea (me) to get us in the mood for the desserts. We chose to share one menu between the two of us, which turned out to be just the right amount of dessert for two girls who’d previously been feasting on doughnuts and pork pie.

Hojicha Latte Tea Set

We started with a quenelle of Green Apple Sorbet, all tart and just slightly sweet in a good way! It was immensely refreshing.

Green Apple Sorbet

Next up was a Vanilla Pannacotta with Red Berry Compote and Champagne Granita. The pannacotta was very softly set, making it more like a pudding with the zingy compote and yes, straight up champagne ice. A very adult dessert.

Vanilla Pannacotta with Red Berry Compote and Champagne Granita

That was followed by an Apricot, Pistachio and Chocolate Pave with Marinated Apricots and Lemon Thyme Ice Cream. I loved the use of the seasonal fruit and the entire combination was delicious, especially that ice cream.

Apricot, Pistachio and Chocolate Pave with Marinated Apricots and Lemon Thyme Ice Cream

Our final main dessert was a generously portioned Passionfruit Tart and Mango Casket with Passionfruit Sauce and Guava Sorbet. That tart was delicious as was the casket filled with a mango fruit, mousse and cake and with a heart of chocolate ganache. I knew Curley was well known for the incorporation of Asian flavours into his chocolates and this was a good example of this.

Passionfruit Tart and Mango Casket with Passionfruit Sauce and Guava Sorbet

A selection of Petit Fours finished off our afternoon dessert tea. All the bites were just perfect: a blackcurrant and juniper chocolate, a pistachio dacquoise sandwiching chocolate cream, and raspberry financiers.

Petit Fours

The quality of the desserts was excellent and it’s not a bad deal at £15 for the dessert tasting menu we shared (drinks not included)! It’s obviously not your traditional afternoon tea but it’s a fantastic alternative. William Curley’s original shop is in Richmond and while there are cakes available to purchase there (along with his chocolates and ice creams), there’s no dessert bar there.

Do take a look at Kathy’s post on the rest of that Saturday!

William Curley Dessert Bar
Weekends only from 1pm
198 Ebury Street
Belgravia
London SW1W 8UN

William Curley on Urbanspoon

A classic black forest cake was something that Blai had requested I make for about two years now and it’s only a couple of weeks ago that I finally got around to making one (for his namesake saint’s feast day – I’ll admit that I didn’t have a gift ready for him!). I don’t regularly make big elaborate cakes and now I remember why – they’re a lot of work!

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte

The recipe for the sponge came from this recipe on allrecipes.com. The more astute of you will notice that this recipe should make four layers whereas I had three: that’s because I am rubbish at slicing cake horizontally and so managed to destroy one entire layer. Actually, this turned out to be a good thing as the full four layers would never have fit into our fridge! Each layer of cake was doused in a mixture of cherry juice and rum; a more correct version would use kirschwasser but I wasn’t going to buy a whole bottle of liquor for the sole purpose of making this cake. In between each layer of cake was a layer of slightly sweetened whipped cream and a layer of sour cherry preserves (a jar of Turkish preserves which contained only whole cherries). The entire thing was then covered in more of that sweetened whipped cream, maraschino cherries and dark chocolate shavings.

And it was pretty good! It could have used a bit more of the preserves and perhaps a bit more cream between the layers but overall, it wasn’t bad. The sponge cake was delicious and light, the preserves were excellent and saved me when I couldn’t find jars or cans of sour cherries and it’s amazing how the chocolate shavings hide all errors in one’s frosting. Thank goodness it was tasty as we were eating it for four days straight.

Slide

Though it’s not much to look at, I’m quite proud of it and so am forcing all of you to look at it too. I won’t be making another for a while, I reckon!

Innards

Mmmm… cake. I was very much on a baking kick a couple weeks ago, the result being that we gain weight and the blog gains a few recipes. When I went to our local market one Saturday, as soon as I laid my eyes on these fat, glossy, juicy blackberries, I knew they’d end up in a cake. Of course, then Blai asked if they were the same berry that we ate off a wild bush on a recent bicycle ride. Yes, doh! I could’ve just ridden up there and picked some wild blackberries; if you have access to a wild bush, pick them there!

Slice of Cake

Coffee cake was what I had in mind – and no, there’s no coffee in it; instead it’s a snack cake meant to be eaten while having coffee. Confused? Yes, why can’t it just be called cake?! Or snack cake? Quite often, they have a crumbly topping, as mine did, so why not just… crumble cake? The original recipe I based my cake on made use of sour cherries and I reckon any tart berry would be a good substitute. I reduced the sugar in the original recipe as we tend to find a lot of North American recipes to be too sweet and I thought the sweetness level what resulted was just right.

Blackberry Coffee Cake

I love fruit in cakes: the sweet-tartness of the berries burst through the butteriness of the tender cake and the crumbly shortbread-like topping, creating an incredibly moreish snack cake. Heck, late the next evening, we ate over half of the cake for dinner, with Larb Pretz on the side.

Blackberry Coffee Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, via Lottie + Doof

For the topping
50g unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup caster or granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cake
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
50g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1 punnet of blackberries

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius. Butter and flour an 8-9 inch square baking pan (or equivalent area pan).

Mix the topping together. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, salt and cinnamon. Drizzle in the melted butter and stir together until mixed together and lumpy. Set aside.

Now mix the main cake batter together. Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir in. Add half the flour mixture, stir until just combined, add the milk, stir again, add the rest of the flour and stir until just combined again. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Dot the batter with the blackberries and then sprinkle the topping evenly over it all.

Blackberries and Batter And a Crumble Topping

Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer comes out clean when poked in the centre of the cake – this should take about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool a bit and serve.

I’m guessing that most everyone in the UK (or at least London) is familiar with the American pecan pie despite the feeling I get that pecans aren’t that popular over here. But have you heard of the Canadian butter tart? Imagine a pecan pie but without any pecans and with raisins and yup, that’s basically a butter tart; it’s still got a buttery crust and that slightly gooey filling with its tasty browned top. It was a cross between a pecan pie and a butter tart that I wanted to achieve with this recipe. A straight up butter tart could definitely be improved with some nuts but I wanted to use something other than pecans.

Pine Nut and Currant Tart

A Missing Slice

Enter the pine nut. I love them in savoury dishes but I also like them in desserts and other sweet treats. And in this tart, they were fabulous – their rich flavour worked very well in the buttery filling. I also tossed in a handful of currants too that I had kicking about, but not before giving them a soaking in a rum mixture. The crust too was ridiculously easy as I found this simple pat-in crust over on Canadian Living (a Canadian woman’s magazine) – no rolling required. I made both a large tart and a few little mini muffin sized ones with what I had leftover but there’s nothing stopping you from making only one or the other. The little ones are awfully cute but a large tart does look quite impressive!

Mini Pine Nut and Currant Tarts

Pine Nut and Currant Tart
makes a 9 inch tart or an 8 inch tart with a few extra mini muffin sized ones.

For the Pastry
300 mL plain flour
25 mL sugar
pinch salt
75 g unsalted and very cold butter, diced
2 tbsps very cold water
1 tsp white vinegar

For the Filling
1 egg, beaten
75 g butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsps milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup dried currants
1-2 tbsps rum
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

Make the pastry case(s) first. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Toss in the butter and use your hands to rub it into the flour, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. If you’re nervous about using your hands, you can use a pastry cutter or two knives. Drizzle in the vinegar and the cold water and stir all together – the mixture should still be very crumbly. You could also do all this in a food processor.

For little tarts, use a mini muffin tin. For a large tart, use a loose based tart tin. Take handfuls of the tart mixture and press into the tins. Make sure to press up against the sides as well. Refrigerate the tart case(s) for at least 15 minutes.

Mix the rum with some hot water and soak the currants in this mixture for about 10 minutes. Drain them and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 190 Celsius.

Make the filling. Stir together the egg, softened butter, brown sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and then stir in the soaked currants and the pine nuts. Pour into the chillled tart shell and then bake in the preheated oven until the filling is set and the pastry is golden. If using mini muffin tins, they’ll take about 15 minutes. An 8 inch tart pan will take about 30 minutes.

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